JOHN G. VORIS et al. v.
MIDDLESEX MUTUAL ASSURANCE COMPANY et al., SC 18281
Judicial District of Danbury
Insurance; Underinsured Motorist; Whether the Plaintiffs were Time Barred from Seeking Underinsured Motorist Benefits; Constitutionality of General Statutes § 38a-336 (g) (1), which Permits Insurance Contracts to Provide a Three Year Limitations Period for Underinsured Motorist Claim. Pursuant to General Statutes § 38a-336 (g) (1), insurance companies cannot limit the time period for the bringing of an underinsured motorist claim to less than three years from the date of the accident. The statute also provides that the insured may toll the limitations period by giving the insurer written notice of a claim for underinsured motorist benefits prior to the expiration of the applicable limitations period. On May 10, 2004, the plaintiffs, John and Joan Voris, sustained personal injuries after they were involved in a motor vehicle accident. The plaintiffs were insured by an automobile liability policy issued by the defendant, Middlesex Mutual Assurance Company (Middlesex). The policy provided that "all suits [for underinsured motorist benefits] must be brought within three years of the date of the accident." On the date of the accident, John Voris called Middlesex and reported the accident. Subsequently, on June 22, 2007, the plaintiffs notified Middlesex in writing of their intent to seek underinsured motorist benefits. Middlesex, however, informed the plaintiffs that any claim for underinsured motorist benefits would be rejected as untimely. As a result, the plaintiffs brought this action, claiming that Middlesex's conduct constituted an anticipatory breach of the parties' insurance contract. Middlesex moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs' claim was time barred by the policy's three year limitation period. In response, the plaintiffs argued that their May 10, 2004 oral notice to Middlesex tolled that period. Noting that their oral notice was notice of the accident, not of an underinsured motorist claim, the trial court rejected the plaintiffs' argument, stating that they were bound by the terms of the policy that required them to provide written notice of their claim within three years of the date of accident, which they failed to do. The plaintiffs next argued that § 38a-336 (g) (1) constitutes an invalid delegation of legislative power to private parties or, more specifically, to private insurance companies because it does not serve a public purpose. Observing that, prior to the enactment of § 38a-336 (g) (1), an insurance company could restrict the notification period to two years, the court rejected this claim as well, ruling that the public purpose served by the statute was to increase the period of time within which the claimants were required to give notice of an underinsured motorist claim. Accordingly, the court granted Middlesex's motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the plaintiffs claim that the trial court's judgment should be reversed because genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether (a) Middlesex was prejudiced by the plaintiffs' late notice, and (b) the plaintiffs substantially complied with the notice provision of the insurance contract. The plaintiffs also challenge the trial court's denial of their claim that § 38a-336 (g) (1) is unconstitutional.