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Edwards v. Great Northern Insurance Co.

July 18, 2006

TAMARA EDWARDS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREAT NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gershon, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

This action arises out of a claim for coverage under an automobile insurance policy. Plaintiff Edwards seeks a remand of the action to the state court from which it was removed by Great Northern Insurance Company ("Great Northern"). Great Northern moves for partial summary judgment on Edwards' claims for defamation, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress and bad faith breach of contract, as well as on plaintiff's demands for consequential and punitive damages and attorneys' fees. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion for remand is denied, and Great Northern's motion is granted in its entirety.

MOTION TO REMAND

The complaint on its face seeks more than the $75,000 minimum required for diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). The motion to remand is denied.

MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are not in dispute.

FACTS

The Accident and Its Immediate Aftermath

On April 21, 2002 around 6:00 p.m., the automobile of Edwards, which was insured by Great Northern, and an automobile driven by Jeanette Tejada collided at the intersection of Powell Street and Riverdale Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. The two-car collision involved six passengers. In addition to Edwards, there were three passengers in Edwards' car, a 2001 Nissan Altima: (1) Edwards' then-fiancé, now-husband Orvin Brown; (2) Violet Whittaker; and (3) Whittaker's infant son. Tejada's car was a 1995 Nissan Sentra, in which Tejeda's young daughter was also riding.

Edwards claims that she was almost through the intersection when Tejeda ran a stop sign and hit the front passenger side of her vehicle and that she was unable to open the driver's side door because of the impact. Police arrived and filled out an accident report. Whittaker and her infant son left the accident scene in an ambulance. Although they were examined at the hospital, neither was injured and neither was treated. At the time of the collision, Edwards complained of pain in her neck, wrist, and knee. Edwards was examined by a paramedic at the scene, who bandaged her wrist. Neither Edwards nor Brown went to the hospital that day. In May of 2002, Edwards sought medical treatment at St. Mary's Hospital for a miscarriage that she claims was caused by the collision. Tejeda was not injured in the accident. Although Tejeda's daughter was taken to the emergency room for an examination the next day, she was "just sore" and not seriously injured.

On April 22, 2002, Edwards, Brown and Whittaker went to to Fulton Medical, P.C. All three were treated by Dr. Michael Pevzner. At his deposition, Dr. Pevzner asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination in response to all questions regarding the examination and treatment of Edwards, Brown, and Whittaker. On February 5, 2003, Great Northern received notice from another insurance company that most insurance companies had stopped making payments to Fulton Medical and Dr. Pevzner.*fn1

On April 22, 2002, Edwards called Great Northern to report the accident. The insurance company took recorded statements over the telephone from Edwards and Brown. Edwards stated that Tejeda ran a stop sign at 85 miles per hour. Edwards claimed that there were no witnesses on the scene. Brown stated that he was visiting from Jamaica for three months. Brown also stated that, after Edwards stopped at the stop sign, they were struck by a car going 85 miles per hour. Both Edwards and Brown rated the collision as a 7.5 on a scale of one to ten.

On April 23, 2002, Tejada also gave a statement by telephone to Great Northern. Tejeda claimed that it was Edwards who ran the stop sign. Tejeda stated that she was going 20 to 25 miles per hour because the road was wet from rain earlier in the day. Tejeda claimed that it was Edwards who struck her after Tejeda had already entered the intersection. Tejeda claimed that Edwards was verbally abusive and threatened physical harm to her and her child. Tejeda also stated that tow truck operators arrived at the scene prior to the police, as well as unknown individuals who solicited business for attorneys. Tejeda noted that none of the passengers in Edwards' car appeared to be injured until the ambulance arrived at which time "they started acting like they were injured."

The Insurance Policy

Edwards' insurance policy went into effect for one year as of April 12, 2002 and provided comprehensive and collision liability coverage for Edwards' 2001 Nissan Altima. The policy provided for liability coverage not exceeding $300,000. On May 14, 2002, Edwards paid a premium of $438.35. The policy contains several pertinent provisions. First, Great Northern agreed to insure Edwards for any property damage to her car and for direct loss or expense arising or resulting from claims against her for damages by reason of ownership, maintenance, and operation of the car. If the loss were found to be the result of an intentional act, the consequences of which were foreseeable to a reasonable person, the loss would be excluded from coverage. In addition, the policy contained agreements reserving Great Northern's right to investigate collisions to determine whether they are excluded from coverage under the policy. The policy does not provide coverage if an insured has intentionally concealed or misrepresented any material fact relating to the policy before or after the loss. Finally, Great Northern agreed to provide and to pay for a rental car for Edwards while her car was being repaired.

The Damaged Car

Edwards took her car to Gill's Auto Body Shop for repair, where the estimated damages totaled $7,297.04. Great Northern's appraiser approved the estimate, and the shop performed the repairs. Although Great Northern initially paid for some of the replacement rental car expenses through May 1, 2006, Edwards later incurred car rental and other transportation expenses for which Great Northern has refused to reimburse her. After the shop completed the repairs to the car, Great Northern refused to pay.

As a result of Great Northern's refusal to pay for the cost of repairs, the auto body shop placed a lien on the car and served Edwards with a Notice of Lien and Sale indicating that the car would be sold if payment were not received by a certain date. On June 28, 2002, Edwards notified Great Northern of this. On July 13, 2002, her attorney wrote a letter informing Great Northern that it was in violation of the contract and urging the insurance company to fulfill its obligations. Because of its pending ...


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