The vehicle was insured under a commercial automobile
insurance policy in the name of Quisset Properties, Inc., a buiness owned by
William Senne’s father, Peter Senne. Although the business had been
involuntarily dissolved in 1999, Peter Semme failed to notify Quincy Mutual or
its agent, Fair & Yeager Insurance Agency, Inc., of the change in
circumstances, while continuing to renew the policy annually and paying the
premiums. Referring to Massachusetts General Laws, c. 175, § 186 in his summary
In its review of the case, the Appeals Court focused on the question as to which party actually had the obligation to either obtain or furnish relevant information. In its written decision, the Court noted that, “The insurer sets the parameters of the negotiation, deciding those risks that it wishes to insure and those that it does not. Unless the insurer advises the insured of matters that are important to it in the ‘negotiation’ of the policy ... how is an insured to know what is important or increases the risk of loss? We doubt that the Legislature intended to make insureds de facto underwriters who risk forfeiture of coverage for failing to identify an volunteer changed circumstances that might increase the risk of loss to the insurer. The insured’s silence is not a ‘misrepresentation’ because the insurer is in the best position to ask for information that bears on its decision to insure.”
In support of its conclusion, the Appeals Court cited several previous cases outside Massachusetts as well as recognized insurance treatises that hold the insurer responsible for identifying and requesting information relevant to the issuance or renewal of a policy.
neither Quincy Mutual nor its agent Fair & Yeager had directly and
specifically asked Peter Senne questions relating to the continued existence of
Quisset Properties at any point in the renewal process, and since the policy as
written did not impose a duty of disclosure on the insured, the Court ruled
that the insurer was not released from its obligation to honor the terms of the
In handing down its decision, the Appeals Court has set a binding precedent protecting consumers from an unjustified denial of coverage and further clarifying the obligation of insurers to assume the burden of inquiry when issuing or renewing its policies.
“Whenever there is a conflict between an insurance company and its automobile policyholder, the company has the upper hand. This case evens the playing field and places the burden upon the insurance company and, where appropriate, the insurance agency soliciting the coverage, to expressly ask the policyholder to provide whatever detailed information is necessary affecting the policy coverage.” Neil Sugarman
Sugarman, established in 1967, is the largest personal injury law firm in Massachusetts. Recognized for its leadership in law, advocacy, and education, the firm handles a range of civil litigation, including medical malpractice, premises and product liability, construction site accidents, fire and explosion litigation, and motor vehicle accidents. Many of the firm’s cases have established important legal precedents at the appellate level.