East Texas Appeals Court Reinstates Default Judgment Against UM Carrier That Failed to Answer – In Re Ruby Britt

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Only an insurance company would have the audacity to deny an injured woman’s uninsured motorist claim, fail to file an answer to the lawsuit she was forced to file in order to get the coverage for which she had paid premiums, ask the court for a new trial after it granted the woman a new trial, and then complain about the amount of time it took the woman to file suit against it in the first place.

Fortunately, an east Texas appellate court did the right thing when this exact scenario unfolded recently. It reinstated the default judgment against the insurance company, making it pay the woman the money awarded to her by the trial judge.

Facts of the Case

In an original mandamus proceeding styled In Re Ruby Britt, the plaintiff was a woman who was hurt in a motor vehicle accident in 2011. She sent a letter to the defendant, her underinsured motorist (UM) carrier (State Farm), in 2015, demanding compensation for the accident. Later that year, she proceeded with litigation against the defendant, alleging in her formal complaint that it had wrongfully denied her claim.

The defendant failed to file a timely answer, and the trial court granted a default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor and awarded her $50,000 plus attorney’s fees. Later, however, the trial court granted the defendant’s motion to set aside the default judgment and granted it a new trial.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed an original petition for a writ of mandamus in the court of appeals, asking the higher court to vacate the trial court’s order setting aside the default judgment in the plaintiff’s favor and granting a new trial and to instead reinstate the default judgment originally entered.

The Court’s Holding

The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Appellate District of Texas at Texarkana conditionally granted the writ of mandamus sought by the plaintiff. The court first noted that mandamus is an extraordinary remedy that is only available when 1) a trial court abuses its discretion (or fails to perform a ministerial act or duty), and 2) when the party so aggrieved lacks an adequate remedy at law.

After finding that the court below abused its discretion in setting aside the default judgment and granting a new trial, since the defendant failed to raise a meritorious defense, the court went on to decide that mandamus was an appropriate remedy because the plaintiff lacked an adequate remedy at law.

In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiff filed suit less than a year after the defendant denied her UM claim, and thus her claims were not barred by the statute of limitations, as first asserted by the defendant on appeal.

An East Texas Car Accident Law Firm Ready to Help

No one wants to be involved in a serious automobile accident or to have to do battle with an insurance company to whom they have paid premiums for many years. Still, a car crash can happen in just the blink of an eye, and it is not unusual for the responsible motorist to be uninsured or underinsured. If you have questions about your legal rights following an east Texas car crash, call board-certified attorney Earl Drott, P.C., at (903) 531-9300 and ask for a free consultation.

Related Blog Posts

Texas Court Partially Affirms Default Judgment on Liability in Car Wreck Case but Reverses on Damages Award – Reed v. Vance

Texas Court of Appeals Says New Trial Should Not Have Been Granted After Take-Nothing Judgment in Case Against UM Carrier – In Re State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company