As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I was interested to read a court decision about how arbitration affected recovery for one serious truck accident. In IFA Insurance Co. v. American Trucking and Transportation Insurance Co., IFA sought to recover the considerable costs incurred by its insured, driver Donika Lamcaj, after she was hit by a negligent trucker. A judge compelled arbitration between the two companies, but American Trucking didn’t like the outcome and sought to vacate the award. The New Jersey trial court declined to do so, and after consideration, the Appellate Division agreed, but for different reasons.
Lamcaj was hit by Harold Mercer, who the arbitrator found was negligent and proximately caused the accident. No accident details were provided, but the total paid to Lamcaj by IFA, her PIP insurer, was $101,914.48. IFA sought to recover the same amount from American Trucking, the insurer covering Mercer’s truck. The arbitrator found Mercer negligent and denied American Trucking’s claim for comparative negligence, saying that principle did not apply to IFA’s reimbursement claim because it was not a subrogation claim. IFA then moved in New Jersey Superior Court to confirm the award, but American Trucking opposed this and sought to vacate it, arguing that state law requires a finding of comparative negligence. The Superior Court ultimately confirmed the award, finding no legal authority for the comparative negligence claim and saying arbitration awards must be confirmed unless there’s fraud or other wrongdoing. American Trucking appealed.
The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling, though not on exactly the same grounds. As a preliminary matter, it agreed with American Trucking that the trial court applied the wrong standard, using a law about arbitration of collective bargaining rather than New Jersey’s version of the Uniform Arbitration Act. However, the appeals court said, the laws have “essentially identical standards” for overturning arbitration awards. American Trucking argued that the arbitrator overstepped his authority (a violation of both laws) by failing to consider comparative negligence. Nonetheless, the appeals court said, the trial court found no legal authority for that argument and indeed, American Trucking provided none. And New Jersey caselaw is clear that courts have only narrow authority to overturn arbitration awards when those awards are tainted by fraud, corruption or other wrongdoing. As no such factor exists in this case, the appeals court upheld the award in favor of IFA.
This case may be a good example of the lengths to which insurance companies will go to avoid paying what they owe. As a St. Louis tractor-trailer accident attorney, I know that this can be a big and unexpected problem for people who have suffered serious injuries through a trucker’s negligence. Most individuals don’t have the financial resources to take a case all the way through the appeals system, which means even an apparently baseless appeal like American Trucking’s might be enough to scare away a plaintiff without IFA’s money. And even before any legal action is taken, some trucking companies have been known to approach the victims to offer small financial settlements, knowing that the settlement will be enough to prevent them from pursuing more money later. If you’re in this position, never take the money or sign anything before speaking to our experienced southern Illinois 18-wheeler accident lawyers.
If you or someone you love was seriously hurt by a truck driver’s or trucking company’s carelessness, you should call Carey, Danis & Lowe for help. To set up a free, confidential case evaluation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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