“Relation Back” Doctrine

Clourine Sealey v. National General Insurance Co. et al, 506107/2020 (Sup. Ct., Kings Co. Feb. 10, 2022)

In this property insurance coverage dispute the plaintiff sued National General four days before the suit limitation period expired. National General moved to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it did not issue the policy; one of National General’s affiliates, MIC General Insurance Company, issued the policy.

The plaintiff responded by amending the complaint to add MIC General as a defendant. MIC General then moved to dismiss the amended complaint against it based on the two-year suit limitation provision within MIC General’s insurance policy, since the insured loss occurred more than two years before MIC was added to the case.

The plaintiff argued that the date on which suit was commenced related back to when it commenced suit against National General, which was timely, because these companies were closely affiliated, and the same person received service for both entities at the same location.

The court disagreed, holding, in part that:

While NATIONAL and MIC are related subsidiaries of the same holding company or parent corporation, they are each separate and distinct entities. Plaintiff has not provided evidence that there is any type of interrelationship between NATIONAL and MIC that would give rise to vicarious liability and entitle Plaintiff to rely upon the relation back doctrine.

This decision involves a question of first impression, i.e., whether, pursuant to the “relation back” doctrine, commencement of a suit against one insurance company satisfies a suit limitation provision in an insurance policy that was issued by a different, but related, insurer. The court held that under the circumstances before it, the relation back doctrine was inapplicable. The decision also clarifies that the right to amend a complaint “is not available where a plaintiff seeks to substitute a defendant who has not been properly served.”

Judge: Wayne P. Saitta, Sup. Ct. Kings Co.

Kevin F. Buckley and Arie Smith represented National General Insurance Company and MIC General Insurance Company.

Counsel for Clourine Sealey: Brett M. Schatz of Law Office of Brett M. Schatz PC.

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