On The Pulse…The Relationship Between the Handling Attorney and the Claims Professional in Auto Liability

By John T. McGrath, Esq. & Michael R. Speer, Esq.*

Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin’s Automobile Liability Practice Group is the oldest and most storied practice area in our firm. It is made up of lawyers from each of our 20 offices. This group of seasoned lawyers dedicates a great majority of their time to automobile cases involving first- and third-party claims. Some of these lawyers have been working in this capacity for more than 30 years. The focus of the auto liability group is liability defense and the defense of automobile insurers in no-fault, UM and UIM disputes. We also work in concert with the attorneys in our firm who handle fraud and bad faith cases.

The experience within our Automobile Liability Practice Group is immense. Each of our 20 offices has seasoned trial attorneys who have tried numerous auto cases to verdict. Very rarely does an issue appear that we have not dealt with in the past. Traditional claims in the third-party auto liability portion of our practice vary from very simple—such as minor impact, soft impact tissue cases—to driving-under-the-influence cases, with punitive damages and bad faith implications. Cases differ greatly, and our attorneys are prepared to handle whatever scenario arises.

By working together, our attorneys and the claims professionals with whom they interact identify liability issues that need to be monitored closely. This relationship, once established, allows our attorneys to work with our clients in advance of suits that are filed and the case being assigned to our firm.

One question we are repeatedly asked by claims professionals is whether or not an individual breaches limited tort. Each of our offices deal with the many and diverse counties in their states. The makeup of the juries in each of these counties varies greatly. What breaches limited tort in some counties would not in others. Many of these counties border one another, and in most instances, the courthouses are less than 40 miles away from one another. That being said, the jury makeup and verdicts in these counties can be worlds apart. Local knowledge is a valuable resource, especially when working with a claims professional who may not be familiar with the jurisdictions. This knowledge is instrumental in deciding with the claims professional whether to resolve a claim pre-litigation or see it through trial.

Knowledge of experts is also invaluable. Our attorneys know when they are dealing with a professional witness and how to deal with plaintiffs’ experts who are overreaching. The knowledge and working relationship with the claims professionals, who also are often aware of some experts’ tendencies, allows for a claim to be evaluated properly, efficiently and in a timely manner.

Another way our attorneys assist claims professionals is by fielding questions pre-suit in an effort to eliminate problems down the road. Our goal is always to address developing or potential problems early. To do this, we encourage our clients to get us involved whenever they feel it is necessary.

Our attorneys also have a vast field of knowledge in dealing with first-party PIP, UM and UIM defense of automobile insurers. In dealing with first-party claims, it is critical that defense counsel understand their jurisdiction as the law on PIP, UM and UIM vary greatly from state to state. Our attorneys can provide this multi-jurisdictional knowledge. We can as easily answer a New Jersey or Pennsylvania PIP question as we can one involving Florida, Ohio or Delaware UM/UIM.

We routinely defend auto insurers in complicated first-party disputes involving medical necessity of treatment, particularly in those states with high PIP policy limits. We work closely with claims professionals and experts in addressing treatment plans and defending post-treatment disputes. We are intimately familiar with defense strategies for disputes relating to usual and customary billing rates, CPT coding, NCCI edits, and the assessment of Medicare and workers’ compensation liens.

Our attorneys are also experienced in defending disputes that are made in non-traditional ADR settings; for example, no-fault arbitrations. The amount of litigation in these areas has increased dramatically. We are on the cutting edge in defending in these jurisdictions, and we take advantage of the relaxed rules of evidence and other unique rules. We have handled hundreds of thousands of such disputes and have worked closely with claims professionals in developing complicated strategies for defending this field of litigation. These defenses often involve novel, unique issues related to excessive billing, correct coding initiatives, billing for services not rendered and the use of fee databases.      

In closing, we at Marshall Dennehey are extremely proud of our Automobile Liability Practice Group and the relationships we have developed in 54 years of working closely with our clients. The relationships not only benefit Marshall Dennehey but our clients as well and have led to friendships that, in many instances, have lasted decades.

*Jack McGrath and Michael Speer are co-chairs of our Automobile Liability Practice Group. Jack is a shareholder in our Scranton, Pennsylvania office. He can be reached at 570.496.4603 or jtmcgrath@mdwcg.com. Michael is a shareholder in our Roseland, New Jersey office who can be reached at 973.618.4108 or mrspeer@mdwcg.com.


Defense Digest, Vol 22, No. 1, March 2016

Defense Digest is prepared by Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2016 Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact tamontemuro@mdwcg.com.