Thursday, July 30, 2009

Coverage Counsel

I'm not sure how it's possible, but apparently I never, before now, had a link in my blogroll to Roy A. Mura, Esq.'s wonderful blog Coverage Counsel. Mr. Mura's posts deal with no-fault issues, as well as a much wider range of insurance law matters.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Provider EUOs

David M. Gottlieb, Esq. has previously covered this issue at No-Fault Paradise, but it seems to me that it's worth some additional attention.

On June 24, 2009, the NYS Insurance Department issued an opinion letter entitled "Examinations Under Oath of Assignees". The short question/answer summary is as follows:

May an insurer, when requesting verification in the form of an examination under oath of an assignee of no-fault personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefits, require a corporate assignee to designate a specific person to be examined?

No. Neither the Insurance Law nor the regulations promulgated thereunder permit an insurer to require that a corporate assignee of no-fault benefits designate a specific person of the insurer’s choice to submit to an examination under oath.

As the Insurance Department noted, "nowhere does the regulation address whether an assignee that is a corporate entity or partnership must submit a person for examination that is specifically identified by an insurer in its examination under oath notice." The Department therefore reasoned that there is, in fact, no allowance for the insurer to request the production of a specific person at an EUO. However, the Department opined that, if the provider does produce someone for the EUO, and that person is unable to provide the information sought, "the insurer may request additional examinations of the assignee until a person is submitted for examination by the assignee who can provide the items necessary to verify the claim." (Internal quotation marks omitted).

In his post, Mr. Gottlieb asked what is presumably the most important and immediate question for practitioners: "Would EUO requests, where they demanded that a specific person appear for the EUO, be defective as a matter of law?"

I'm not sure that there's an easy answer here, but it seems to me that if an insurer requests that a specific person (presumably, a professional shareholder) appear at an EUO, and only requests the appearance of that person, the request is invalid. It would seem that it would be invalid, ab initio, for an insurer to request something that it is simply not entitled to. To the extent that a provider could choose to produce a different person in response to such a request, the provider would be under no duty to do so given the specific nature of the request. As such, non-attendance (by anyone from the provider) at such a requested EUO should not constitute a failure to provide verification or to otherwise cooperate, as the insurer had no authority to make such a request in the first place.

It therefore appears to me that requesting that a provider produce a specific person at an EUO is no more valid than an insurer requesting an EUO at all under the Old Regulations (which contained no specific provision whatsoever allowing for EUOs as a form of verification). See King's Med. Supply v. Progressive Ins., 3 Misc.3d 126(A) (App. Term, 2d Dep't, 2004), holding that "[s]ince there was no provision authorizing such a procedure, defendant's request that plaintiff submit to an EUO did not toll the 30-day period within which it was required to pay or deny the claim."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

An Addition to the Blogroll

I've been meaning to add it in for a while, but now that I finally got around to updating the layout of the blog (which shouldn't look much different to the reader, hopefully), I've added a link to No Fault Law - A Defense Attorney's Perspective. It's worth taking a look at.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Death of the Assignment of Benefits?

In 2007, the Court of Appeals reaffirmed the longstanding Appellate Division case law "that a carrier's failure to seek verification or object to the adequacy of claim forms pursuant to 11 NYCRR 65-3.5 precludes it from interposing any defenses based on such deficiencies." Hospital for Joint Diseases v. Travelers Property Cas. Ins. Co., 9 N.Y.3d 312, 318 (2007). The Appellate Division had long held that this rule precluded defenses related to, inter alia, the assignment of benefits form. The Court of Appeals therefore held "that the failure by Travelers to seek verification of the assignment in a timely manner prevents the carrier from litigating the issue now." Id. at 319.

Left open was the question of whether proof of the assignment is a part of a no-fault plaintiff's prima facie case. Travelers contended before the Court of Appeals that proof of the assignment was, indeed, a necessary component of a plaintiff's proof. The Court avoided the issue by holding that, "[e]ven assuming that this is true, we conclude that an assignment form stating that the patient's signature is 'on file' satisfies that burden where the carrier does not timely take action to verify the existence of a valid assignment." Id. at 320.

The Appellate Term, 2d Dep't, has since taken the Hospital for Joint Diseases decision and run with it. In Westchester Neurodiagnostic, P.C. v. Allstate Ins. Co., decided last month, the App. Term held that "proof of the assignment of benefits form is not an element of plaintiff's prima facie case." ___ Misc.3d ___, 2009 NY Slip Op 51385(U) (App. Term, 2d Dep't, 2009). I believe this is the first time an appellate court has explicitly announced this rule.

This month, in Davydov v. Progressive Ins. Co., the Appellate Term dealt with the situation of an assignment form existing, but not actually naming the proper parties. ___ Misc.3d ___, 2009 NY Slip Op 29299 (App. Term, 2d Dep't, 2009). In that case, the assignee was misidentified as "Dr. Albert Davydov, DDS, P.C. rather than Dr. Albert Davydov, DDS." Id. Nevertheless, citing to Hospital for Joint Diseases, and over a dissent by Justice Golia, the Appellate Term held that even this issue was waived.

I wouldn't be surprised if the carriers in Westchester Neurodiagnostic and Davydov try taking their arguments to the Appellate Division, but these decisions represent the current state of the law on assignments. It would thus appear now that, without having made verification requests, no assignment-related defense will hold any water. Indeed, in such situations, the assignment form should not even be subject to production through the discovery process, as discovery demands related to precluded defenses are palpably improper. See Midborough Acupuncture, P.C. v. State Farm Ins. Co., 21 Misc.3d 10, 12 (App. Term, 2d Dep't, 2008).

On the other hand, I have no question in my mind that many trial court judges will continue to consider the assignment a necessary part of a plaintiff's burden. Some judges still continue to hold that an assignor's signature on the assignment form must be authenticated in order for a plaintiff to make out its prima facie case, even though the Appellate Term has held otherwise for years. See A.B. Medical Services PLLC v. Prudential Property & Cas. Ins. Co., 7 Misc.3d 14 (App. Term, 2d Dep't, 2005). That being said, any judge reading this would necessarily be too well-informed to make such an error.

And, of course, many defense attorneys who know better still continue to make such frivolous arguments while feigning ignorance of the last decade of no-fault jurisprudence. I've had defense attorneys tell me, with a straight face, that Hospital for Joint Diseases doesn't preclude them from questioning the validity of the language of the assignment form for the first time at trial.

If anyone believes that, in the absence of relevant verification requests, any assignment-related defenses still survive, please feel free to share.