Voris v. Middlesex Mutual Assurance Co., 297 Conn. 589 (2010)

The insureds brought this action seeking a declaration that the insurer had to provide them with underinsured motorist benefits. Voris, 297 Conn. at 591. The insurance policy included a provision that required any action against the insurer to be brought within three years of the date of the accident, but a claim could be brought at a later date so long as written notice of intent to bring such a claim was filed within three years of the date of the accident. Id. at 592-93. The insureds were involved in a motor vehicle accident and notified the insurer of the same the following day. Id. at 593. The insureds commenced legal action against the alleged tortfeasor within two years of the date of the accident. Id. However, the insureds did not notify the insurer that they intended to seek underinsured motorist coverage under their policy within the three years following the date of the accident. Id. The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that the policy’s notice restriction provision provided an absolute bar to the insureds’ recovery. Id. at 594.

On appeal, the insureds argued that the court should follow Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Murphy, 206 Conn. 409 (1988), which held 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.” Voris, 297 Conn. at 598 (citing Murphy, 206 Conn. at 417-18). The court, however, found Murphy to be distinguishable because in that case, the relevant provision in the policy specified a time limit for notification of the “occurrence” and not for the initiation of a claim. Id. Additionally, the clause in Murphy required notice of the occurrence “as soon as practicable” rather than notice within a specified period of time. Id. The court also cited Hotkowski v. Aetna Life & Cas. Co., 224 Conn. 145 (1992), in which the court “appeared to raise the possibility of extending the prejudice rule of Murphy to a late claim for underinsured motorist benefits.” Voris, 297 Conn. at 599. Specifically, the court provided that “[t]o the extent that Hotkowski left open the question of whether prejudice should be considered in determining if any insured may be excused from strict compliance with a specific time limit for bringing underinsured motorist claims, we now expressly reject this proposition.” Id. In sum, the court held that the trial court properly determined that the insureds’ underinsured motorist action was barred. Id. at 600.