December 22, 2006

New York Massage Therapy P.C. v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. (2006 NY Slip Op 52573(U))


The relevant facts considered in this case are that New York Massage Therapy P.C. sought recovery of first-party no-fault benefits from State Farm Mutual Insurance Company for medical services rendered to its assignor after an automobile accident, amounting to $810.32. State Farm denied the claim based on the plaintiff's failure to appear for a scheduled EUO and alleged fraud, claiming the accident was staged. The main issue decided was whether State Farm had successfully proven that the accident was staged and the burden of proof had shifted to the plaintiff. The court held that State Farm failed to come forward with admissible evidence to establish its belief that the injuries did not arise from an insured accident, and that the "suspicious indicators" used as a basis for denial were speculative and not determinative. Therefore, judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiff for the amount of $810.32, plus statutory interest and attorney's fees.

Reported in New York Official Reports at New York Massage Therapy P.C. v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. (2006 NY Slip Op 52573(U))

New York Massage Therapy P.C. v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. (2006 NY Slip Op 52573(U)) [*1]
New York Massage Therapy P.C. v State Farm Mut. Ins. Co.
2006 NY Slip Op 52573(U) [14 Misc 3d 1231(A)]
Decided on December 22, 2006
Civil Court Of The City Of New York, Kings County
Ash, J.
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
This opinion is uncorrected and will not be published in the printed Official Reports.
Decided on December 22, 2006

Civil Court of the City of New York, Kings County

New York Massage Therapy P.C. a/a/o Artur Yusupov, Plaintiff,


State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant.


Sylvia G. Ash, J.

Plaintiff brought this action seeking recovery of first party no-fault benefits for medical services rendered to its assignor in connection with injuries sustained as a result of an automobile accident. Plaintiff is a health care provider and Defendant was the no-fault insurance carrier at the time the accident occurred. The amount at issue is $810.32. A trial on the matter was conducted by this Court on September 13, 2006. Based on the evidence and testimony adduced at trial, this Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.

To establish its prima facie case, Plaintiff submitted a Notice to Admit duly served on the Defendant and an Order issued by Judge Eileen N. Nadelson dated December 8, 2005 granting Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment and dismissing Defendant’s cross-motion to dismiss. The Defendant moved for a Directed Verdict. The Court reserved decision. With regard to Judge Nadelson’s December 8, 2005 Order, the Court notes that this Order is with regard to a different Plaintiff and a different Index Number separate from the case at bar. Therefore, said Order has no bearing on this case.

With regard to Plaintiff’s Notice to Admit, the Court notes that the purpose of a Notice to Admit is to eliminate from the issues in litigation matters which will not be in dispute at trial. Desilva v. Rosenberg, 236 AD2d 508, 645 NYS2d 30 (2d Dept. 1997); Miller v. Hillman Kelly Co. 578 NYS2d 319 {177 AD2d 1036} (4th Dept. 1991). Defendant’s denial of Plaintiff’s claim is based on Plaintiff’s failure to appear for a scheduled EUO pursuant to a subpoena and lack of coverage based on fraud in that the accident was staged. In an action for first-party no-fault benefits, the Plaintiff establishes its prima facie burden by proof that it submitted a claim setting forth the facts, the amount of the loss sustained, and that payment of no-fault benefits is overdue. Mary Immaculate Hosp. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 5 AD3d 742 [2004]; Amaze Med. Supply v. Eagle Ins. Co. 2 Misc 3d 128 [A], 2003 NY Slip Op 51701[U] [App Term, 2d & 11th Jud Dists]; Damadian MRI in Elmhurst v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 2 Misc 3d 128[A], 2003 NY Slip Op 51700[U] [App Term, 9th & 10th Jud Dists]). The Court finds that Plaintiff established its prima [*2]facie case with the submission of its Notice to Admit.

Generally, an insured seeking to recover for a loss under an insurance policy has the burden of proving that a loss occurred and that the loss was a covered event within the terms of the policy. A.B. Medical Services, PLLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Company, 7 Misc 3d 822, 795 NYS2d 843 [Civ. Ct. Kings County 2005]. Whatever the risk or loss covered, it has long been the insured’s burden to prove coverage under the policy. A.B. Medical Services, id. At 825.

The Plaintiff’s prima facie showing establishes a presumption of coverage. A.B. Medical Services, PLLC, id at 825. Once the Plaintiff makes a prima facie showing, the burden of explanation or of “going forward with the case” falls upon the defendant. Mount Sinai Hosp. v. Triboro Coach Inc., 263 AD2d 11, 699 NYS2d 77 [2d Dept., 1999]. This burden, in effect, allows the Defendant to disprove the presumption of coverage, thus demonstrating its denial of Plaintiff’s complaints. Palmier v. United States Fidelity and Guaranty Company, 135 AD2d 1057 (3rd Dept. 1987). No-fault insurance policies cover only vehicular accidents. A deliberate collision is not a covered accident. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Laguerre, 3035 AD2d 490, 759 NYS2d 531 [2nd Dept. 2003]; Allstate Insurance Co. v.Massre, 14 AD3rd 610, 789 NYS2d 206 [2nd Dept. 2005]. When a collision is an intentional act, not an accident, there is no coverage “regardless of whether the intentional collision was motivated by fraud or malice.” Government Employees Ins. Co. v. Shaulskaya, 302 AD2nd 522, 756 NYS2d 79 [2nd Dept. 2003].

The standard of proof to be applied in the staged accident arena is preponderance of the evidence. Universal Open MRI of the Bronx, P.C.v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins., 12 Misc 3d 1151(A) (N.Y.Civ. Ct. Kings County 2006); V.S. Medical Services, P.C., v. Allstate Insurance Company, 11 Misc 3d 334, (NY Civ. Kings County 2006); A.B. Medical Services, PLLC, supra .

If an insurer has a “founded belief” that the alleged accident was not a true accident, it can deny the claim based on 11 NYCR 65-3.8(e)(2). The insurer has the burden to come forward with proof in admissible form to establish the fact or the evidentiary foundation for its belief that there is no coverage. A.B. Medical Services, PLLC v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 7 Misc. 3rd 11, 699 NYS2d 55 (2nd Dept.). If this threshold is reached, the burden shifts to the Plaintiff to rebut the Defendant’s case. When all the evidence has been submitted, the finder of fact must determine whether the evidence preponderates in favor of the Plaintiff or the Defendant. V.S. Medical Services, P.C., supra .

At trial Plaintiff did not present any witnesses. Defendant called as its principal and only witness Don Willsey. Mr. Willsey stated he has been a State Farm employee for 12 years and for the last 7 years he has been assigned to the Special Investigation Unit where he investigates no-fault claims that are deemed to be suspicious. Mr. Willsey gave testimony about a list of “suspicious indicators” used by State Farm to determine whether there is a basis to deny a claim which includes but is not limited to:

Recent purchase of the insurance policy. [*3]

Vehicle insured is an older model.

P.O. Box is used for the insured address.

Failure to cooperate with scheduled E.U.O

Vehicle and/or claimants have been involved in multiple

accidents in a short period of time.

In addition to the above “suspicious indicators” Mr. Willsey stated that State Farm also relies on information obtained from the National Insurance Crime Bureau and an in-house State Farm Link Chart.. Mr Willsey stated that the following suspicious indicators were present in the case at bar:

Driver of the insured vehicle was involved in 2

accident over a short period of time.

Driver of insured vehicle was involved in an

accident on 11/19/05 one month before the alleged

accident in question.

Passenger in 11/19/05 accident had 3 prior accidents

Both vehicles involved in the alleged accident

were older model vehicles.

An insurance claim was previously submitted to

another insurance carrier.

Driver of insured vehicle did not appear for

scheduled E.U.O.

Insured appeared for scheduled E.U. but was

not cooperative.

Based on the above, Mr. Willsey stated that it was his opinion that the accident was staged. However, on cross-examination, Mr. Willsey testified that he did not personally investigate the claim, he was not involved in the investigation of the claim, he was not present at the scheduled E.U.O., he did not visit the scene of the accident and he was not involved in the decision to deny the claim.

The Court determines that Defendant failed to come forward with proof in “admissible form” to establish the “fact” or the evidentiary “foundation” to buttress its belief that the injuries alleged by the assignor did not arise from an insured accident. The Defendant failed to proffer admissible evidence to rebut the presumption of coverage that attaches to the Plaintiff’s properly completed claim form. Mr. Willsey has no first hand knowledge of the events concerning the facts and investigation of the claim, and most importantly, he was not privy to the discussions and reasoning which resulted in the denial of the claim. The above “suspicious indicators” used by Defendant as a basis for denial of Plaintiff’s claim, taken together or alone does not sustain defendant’s burden by a preponderance of the evidence. At best, such “suspicious indicators” are speculative and not determinative.

Based upon the foregoing, this Court concludes that the Defendant has failed to come forward with evidence of a staged accident or that the loss giving rise to this action was [*4]intentional, and thus the burden of persuasion was never shifted to Plaintiff. Accordingly, judgment is to be entered in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $810.32 plus statutory interest and attorney’s fees. This constitutes the Decision and Order of this Court.

DATED: December 22, 2006_________________________________