Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Another decision finding wiggle room for attorney's fees in PIP case after insurer tenders payment of medical bills

I wrote here about a recent Appellate Division case, Metro West Med. Assocs. v. Amica Mut. Ins. Co., which held that payment of outstanding PIP bills by an insurer does not necessarily prevent the award of attorney's fees under the PIP statute. Another Appellate Division decision has come to the same conclusion.

Howard Physical Therapy provided medical services to Joel DaSilva for injuries he suffered in a motor vehicle accident. Howard submitted to DaSilva's insurer, Premier, a request for PIP reimbursement of medical expenses. Premier paid some of the bills and refused to pay the remainder, asserting that the balance was unreasonable "upon review by an outside company."

Howard took no further action for more than four years, when it filed suit. Two weeks after Howard filed suit, Premier offered to pay the balance plus costs incurred by Howard in filing and serving the complaint. Howard rejected the offer. Premier then sent Howard a check for only the unpaid bill amounts, and moved for summary judgment. The District Court allowed the motion for summary judgment.

In Howard Physical Therapy, Inc. v. Premier Ins. Co., 2010 WL 3855302 (Mass. App. Div.) the Appellate Division reversed the summary judgment decision. It cited Metro West for the proposition that "the mere payment of the balance, in and of itself, would not justify summary judgment for Premier." Rather, the insurer must show that it had "a valid reason not to pay, and that it paid an invalid claim for reasons unrelated to its merits."

The court noted that although Premier had based its original decision, not to pay the full bill, on a review of the bill by "an outside company," there was no indication that the bill was reviewed by a registered or licensed practitioner in the same field as the practitioner submitting the bills, as required by statute. For that reason the Appellate Division reversed the District Court's summary judgment decision.

The court held, however, that Howard could not amend the complaint to add a count for breach of G.L. c. 93A, where Howard had not sent a demand letter prior to suit and Premier made a reasonable offer of settlement within 30 days after suit was filed.

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