Court upholds verdict against no fault insurer but takes away penalty interest
Beverly Duffy was rendered a quadriplegiac in an accident involving an Off Road Vehicle (ORV). Her No Fault PIP insurer, the Grange Insurance Company, argued that she wasn't entitled to PIP benefits for her (enormous) medical expenses. Duffy sued the no fault insurer, pointing out that under the law (as it existed in 2007), if she was hurt operating a 4-wheel ORV on a "publicly maintained way" she was entitled to PIP benefits.
In 2008, the Legislature specifically excluded ORVs from the no fault definition of "motor vehicles," but the Court held that the 2008 change in the law did not have retroactive effect, and this decision was upheld on appeal. So the case went forward. It was submitted to the jury in 2011, with the only real issue being whether the "ORV Trail" where Duffy was hurt met the statutory definition of a "way" that was "publicly maintained."
At trial, Duffy's attorneys presented substantial evidence confirming the State's supervision, inspection, grading, signage, grooming, brushing, repair and maintenance of the Trail. The jury found that the trail was, in fact, "publicly maintained" and awarded Duffy nearly a million dollars in unpaid medical expenses. She was also awarded more than $100,000.00 in penalty interest for the "overdue" PIP medical expenses.
The Grange appealed yet again, arguing primarily that the statutory definition of a "publicly maintained way" given to the jury should have been supplemented by a requirement of proof that the Trail was a "public highway" as defined in the governmental immunity statute. The Court of Appeals panel rejected this argument, pointing out that the two statutes are not "in pari materia" and that the No Fault statute, as it was written in 2007, was clear in its description of the proofs that Duffy was required to establish.
Nevertheless, the Court did overturn the award of penalty interest, because Duffy's attorneys never proffered any evidence establishing that they had provided the Grange with documentation of Duffy's medical expense prior to trial. When the Grange initially denied liability, the attorneys did not forward to it her massive records and billings. Duffy argued that to have done so would have been futile and that she had executed authorizations making this information available to the insurer. The Court held that to collect interest, Duffy needed to have proven that she directly supplied the insurer with the records and billings.