Connecticut Supreme Court Holds a Hardline on Policyholder’s Notice Obligations
The Connecticut Supreme Court recently held that prejudice to the insurer should not be considered in examining late underinsured motorist claims. Voris v. Middlesex Mut. Assurance Co., 297 Conn. 589 (2010). In Voris, the insureds maintained an automobile policy through Middlesex which included a provision requiring any action to be commenced within three years of the date of the accident. Id. at 592-93. The policy provided an exception for underinsured motorists claims; these claims could be commenced after the three years had passed so long as written notice of intent to bring a claim was provided within the three years. The insureds were involved in an automobile accident on May 10, 2004, but did not provide written notice of their intent to bring a claim for underinsured motorists benefits until June 22, 2007. Id. at 593. In accordance with the terms of the policy, Middlesex notified the insureds that their claim was untimely and would, therefore, be denied. Id. The insureds sought a declaratory judgment obligating the defendants to pay the insureds under the underinsured motorist benefit. Id. The trial court granted the insurers motion for summary judgment and the insured appealed. Id. at 591.
On appeal, the insureds argued, “that they should not be compelled to forfeit the benefits of their policy simply because they failed to meet strict time limits unless that late notice prejudiced the defendant.” Id. at 598. The Supreme Court disagreed, distinguishing the seminal case of Atena Cas. & Sur. Co. v. Murphy, 206 Conn. 409 (1988) (holding that an insured could recover under an insurance contract despite late notification to the insurer when the insurer was not materially prejudiced by the late notice), on the grounds that the notification clause at issue in Atena Cas. & Sur. Co. was “substantively” distinct from the subject notice clause, and holding that prejudice should not be considered in determining whether or not an insured may be excused from a late notice in the underinsured motorist context. Id. at 598-99.