Massachusetts Appellate Court Refuses to Set Aside Arbitration Award in Car Accident Case

While the right to a trial-by-jury in a Cape Cod car accident case is very important, there are sometimes occasions when the parties to such a matter may opt to submit their dispute to arbitration rather than move forward with a traditional trial. Like other kinds of alternative dispute resolution such as mediation, arbitration takes the case away from the consideration of a traditional judge and jury and places decision-making into the hands of one or more neutral persons.

In such a situation, there may be a single arbitrator, or there may be several. The result of the arbitration may be binding or non-binding (although, typically, “arbitration tends to be binding, while “mediation” tends to be non-binding).

Arbitration can sometimes be mandatory (such as when someone has signed an agreement to arbitrate all claims prior to the accident or event at issue). Arbitration can also be entered into by the agreement of the parties when all sides believe that it is the most fair and effective means of resolving the issues in a particular case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent (unreported) case, the plaintiff was a woman who was riding as a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a traffic accident in 2015. The accident was allegedly caused by another motorist, and both the passenger and the driver of the vehicle in which she was riding were injured. In 2017, the passenger, the driver, the at-fault motorist, and others attended a mediation, during which an agreement was made that the at-fault motorist’s automobile accident liability insurance company would pay the balance of its policy limits ($979,176.32) to the passenger and the driver. Per the agreement, the allocation of the payment received as a result of the agreement was to be determined through an agreement between the passenger and the driver. If they were unable to reach an agreement, binding arbitration was to take place at a later date.

The passenger and the driver were unable to reach agreement about how to divide the monies received from the at-fault driver’s insurance company, and the matter was submitted to arbitration. The result was an award allocating $900,000 to the driver and $79,176 to the passenger. The passenger filed suit, seeking to vacate the arbitration award. The driver filed a motion for summary judgment, which was granted by the trial court. The passenger sought appellate review.

The Court’s Resolution of the Issues on Appeal

The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed the lower court’s granting of summary judgment to the driver. Clearly, the passenger had failed to bring her application to vacate the arbitrator’s award within the 30-day period required by Massachusetts General Laws ch. 251, § 12(b). While there was an exception to this time period in situations in which there had been corruption, fraud, or other undue means, the passenger made no such allegations here. Instead, she insisted that the 30-day time period was only applicable to disputes that were commercial in nature. Agreeing with the driver that the passenger had waived this argument (as well as her allegation that there was no binding agreement to arbitrate) by failing to raise it in the court below, the reviewing tribunal found no reason to disturb either the trial court’s ruling on summary judgment or the arbitrator’s award allocating the settlement proceeds between the parties.

To Speak to a Massachusetts Attorney

A Cape Cod car accident case can be much more complicated that it may initially seem. Fair resolution of issues such as liability, money damages, and allocation of limited insurance policy proceeds between multiple injured individuals requires time, experience, and assertive legal representation. To speak to an experienced personal injury lawyer about your case, please call the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III at 888-262-6664 or use the “contact us” link on this website.

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