Heard: February 1, 2017.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on March 4,
case was heard by Robert J. Kane, J., on motions for summary
E. Heppner (Andrew Hart Lynch also present) for the
J. Resmini for the plaintiff.
Present: Carhart, Massing, & Henry, JJ.
case highlights the intricacies of the framework for
underinsured motorist claims in Massachusetts, which provides
that the insured and the insurer must either agree on the
resolution of the claim or arbitrate. The plaintiff, Heather
Chamberland, pursued a lengthy civil action against the other
driver involved in the underlying accident and obtained a
large judgment and eventually a settlement in the amount of
that driver's policy limits. Her underinsurance carrier,
Arbella Mutual Insurance Company, was not a party to that
action, though it consented to the settlement. Chamberland
then sought underinsured motorist coverage from Arbella,
which invoked arbitration. On cross motions for summary
judgment, a Superior Court judge held that Arbella's
invocation of arbitration was untimely, and thus Arbella had
waived its right to arbitrate. The motion judge further held
that, as a result of the damages award that Chamberland had
secured against the other driver at trial, Arbella was
collaterally estopped from contesting issues of liability and
damages in connection with Chamberland's underinsurance
claim. Arbella appealed. We reverse because, notwithstanding
the significant amount of time that passed before
Arbella's demand for arbitration, Arbella did not act
inconsistently with its statutory and policy-based right to
arbitrate. As such, there is no basis for a finding of waiver
of that right.
following undisputed facts are drawn from the summary
judgment record. On July 16, 2007, Chamberland was injured in
an accident while operating a motor vehicle insured under a
policy issued by Arbella. The other vehicle involved in the
accident was operated by Dylon Maiorano and insured under a
policy issued by Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Arbella
was notified of the accident, and by October 3, 2007,
confirmed in writing that Chamberland's underinsurance
(part 12) coverage limits under the Arbella policy were $250,
000 per person and $500, 000 per accident.
sued Maiorano in a case that ultimately involved two jury
trials and multiple appeals. Chamberland prevailed in the
second trial; the jury concluded that the accident was caused
solely by Maiorano's negligence and that Chamberland was
entitled to $231, 565 in damages. With statutory interest,
Chamberland's judgment totaled $340, 557.02. Maiorano
appealed. Arbella was not a party to this action.
the appeal was pending, Chamberland, with Arbella's
consent, reached a settlement with Maiorano and Liberty
Mutual, pursuant to which Liberty Mutual agreed to pay her
the full $100, 000 in bodily injury coverage available under
Maiorano's policy. In exchange, Chamberland released
Maiorano and Liberty Mutual from all claims arising out of
the accident. She further acknowledged that Maiorano, by
entering into the settlement, did not admit liability for the
accident, and, in fact, continued to deny the same. On May 2,
2014, Chamberland and Maiorano filed a stipulation of
dismissal of the case with prejudice.
the course of Chamberland's action against Maiorano,
Arbella requested that it be kept apprised of the matter so
it could determine if an underinsurance claim was
forthcoming. The parties did not correspond again until more
than three years later when, on December 31, 2013,
Chamberland's attorney notified Arbella of the $340,
557.02 judgment against Maiorano. Chamberland claimed that
the issues of liability and damages had been resolved by that
judgment and demanded payment of the balance of the judgment,
$240, 557.02, pursuant to the underinsurance coverage
provision in the Arbella policy. Arbella refused, stating
that it was not bound by the judgment against Maiorano and
asserting that it was entitled to resolve issues of liability
and damages through arbitration.
subsequently initiated this action (1) seeking a declaration
that she is entitled to the "remaining"
underinsurance coverage limits of the Arbella policy, and (2)
asserting that Arbella had engaged in unfair settlement
practices in violation of G. L. c. 93A and G. L. c. 176D.
Arbella denied Chamberland's claims and asserted a
counterclaim for court appointment of an arbitrator. The
parties immediately proceeded to summary judgment. The motion
judge dismissed Arbella's counterclaim, granted a
required offset of $100, 000 for the bodily injury coverage
that Chamberland recovered under Maiorano's automobile
insurance policy, and declared Arbella ...