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Annestella v. GEICO General Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware, Kent

June 15, 2015

DIANE ANNESTELLA, Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, NATIONWIDE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Defendants.

Submitted: May 6, 2015

Upon Defendant GEICO General Insurance Company’s Second Motion for Summary Judgment. Denied.

William D. Fletcher, Jr., Esquire of Schmittinger and Rodriguez, P.A., Dover, Delaware; attorney(for the Plaintiff.

Michael K. DeSantis, Esquire of The Law Office of Dawn L. Becker, Wilmington, Delaware; attorney for Defendant, GEICO General Insurance Company.

Sean A. Dolan, Esquire of The Law Office of Cynthia G. Beam, Newark, Delaware;; attorney for Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company.

ORDER

William L. Witham, Jr. Resident Judge

INTRODUCTION

GEICO General Insurance Company (hereinafter "GEICO") filed its motion for summary judgment with this Court on April 14, 2014. GEICO argued that Plaintiff's claims were barred based on her failure to notify GEICO of her agreement to settle her claims with the other driver involved in the auto accident. This Court denied the motion on August 18, 2014. GEICO brings its second motion for summary judgment based on similar claims, seeking to have this Court make a choice of law determination in favor of GEICO.

FACTS AND PROCEDURE

On November 23, 2009, Diane Annestella (hereinafter "Plaintiff") was involved in a motor vehicle accident. Plaintiff was driving a car owned by Margaret Barrett, and was involved in an accident with another vehicle operated by Michael Haxton (hereinafter "Haxton"). In Plaintiff's complaint, she stated her insurance policy is through GEICO which provided uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) coverage, and was also insured with Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company (hereinafter "Nationwide"). Plaintiff argued in the complaint that because the insurance offered by Nationwide was greater than Haxton's policy limits, Plaintiff was entitled to the UM/UIM benefits provided by Nationwide.

Plaintiff settled her case with Haxton and filed her amended complaint on December 30, 2013, arguing that her settlement with Haxton was insufficient and that she should be compensated fully for the damage caused by Haxton's negligence. Plaintiff argued that the uninsured/underinsured insurance agreement with GEICO provided for benefits in the amount of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per occurrence. Plaintiff also argued that the uninsured/underinsured policy with Nationwide had benefits in the amount of $15, 000 per person and $30, 000 per occurrence. Plaintiff demanded judgment against both Nationwide and GEICO.

On April 14, 2014, GEICO filed its first motion for summary judgment. GEICO asserted that Plaintiff was insured by a GEICO policy from Maryland, even though Plaintiff argued she was a resident of the State of Delaware. GEICO argued that the Plaintiff should have complied with Maryland law, and notified GEICO of her intent to settle with Haxton; she did not do so until over a year after she had already entered into an agreement with Haxton and executed a release of claims against him. According to GEICO, this would result in a dismissal of Plaintiff's claims since she failed to contact GEICO with her intent to settle with the tortfeasor, pursuant to Maryland Insurance Code Annotated § 19-511(2013).[1]

The Court denied GEICO's motion without prejudice. The Court held that there was not enough discovery, at that point, to determine whether Maryland law applied to the case. The Court held that "even if Maryland law is favored in a choice of law analysis, it may ultimately not apply because of Delaware's public policy against forfeitures of insurance contracts in the absence of prejudice." The Court went on to hold that:

"Maryland law indicates that its statutory notice requirement is a bright-line all or nothing rule; failure to provide notice to the insurer results in wholesale forfeiture, even if there is no prejudice to the ...

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