Court of Appeals grants reprieve for insurance company after collision; reverses award of fees, also.
Two motorcyclists were injured when the operator dropped the bike to avoid hitting a Suburban stopped in the road. The bike slid into the opposite lane, injuring two approaching motorcyclists. The four bikers sued the Grange Insurance Company for Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits, (that is, limited wages and household services, and medical coverage).
When a motorcyclist is injured in a car accident, the involved "motor vehicle" [car or truck--not bike] insurer owes PIP benefits to all injured persons. The Grange people argued that the bikers' injuries did not arise out of the use of the Suburban "as a motor vehicle" because it was stopped in the road, and also argued that the Suburban wasn't "involved" in the collision.
At trial, there was evidence from the bikers that they struck the Suburban, and by the owner of the Suburban that the mirror was broken and the bumper dented. The investigating officer testified that the Suburban driver admitted at the scene that he felt and heard an impact. Nevertheless, the driver and his wife testified at trial that they felt no impact.
The operator of the first bike also testified that the incident occurred because the Suburban had put his vehicle in "Park" so that no brake lights were visible. The Suburban owner denied that his vehicle was in park and claimed his foot was on the brake. The officer testified that the brake lights were in working order after the collision.
After hearing this evidence, the trial judge granted a directed verdict in favor of the bikers. The insurer appealed and were lucky enough to draw Henry Saad, the insurer's favorite, on the appellate panel. It reversed the judgment for the 'cyclists and sent the case back for a full jury trial. The appellate judges ruled that whether the Suburban was "involved" in the collision was a question of fact that must be decided by jurors, given the Suburban driver's testimony, regardless of the damage to the vehicle. It refused to measure the "great weight of the evidence" or acknowledge the trial judge's access to witnesses' testimony.
Finally, it reversed the trial judge's award of attorneys' fees to the bikers, concluding that the insurer had not demonstrated "unreasonable" behavior in denying the claim, given the testimony its insured gave after reporting the incident and discussing it with the insurer...