Report: Mass. Data Show Fewer Appeals for Insurance Surcharges

There are fewer appeals being filed in Massachusetts against insurance surcharges even though there is a “favorable” chance of winning such appeals, according to a recent report from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Surcharges are an additional amount tacked on to a policy after a driver has gotten a ticket or caused an accident. In some cases, these surcharges can make an inexpensive auto insurance policy unaffordable.

Surcharges can occur after a driver is ticketed or in a collision, although the size of the surcharge—or if it appears at all—can depend on the kind of violation and how many times a driver has been cited for it in the past. An appeal, if won, can erase a violation from a driver’s record, sparing that driver surcharges for incidents.

Since 2006, the number of motorists appealing their tickets has dropped 36 percent, with a little more than half of cases won by drivers, according to the report based on data from the state’s Insurance Board of Appeals (IBA). The data represent a drop of almost 20,000 appeals from the IBA’s caseload.

Number of Traffic-Ticket Appeals Also Falling

There is a comparable drop in the number drivers filing traffic-ticket appeals, but officials with the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) would not “speculate as to the reason for the decline,” a RMV spokesperson stated in the report.

There was a 21 percent decrease in the number of drivers who appealed traffic tickets in 2010 compared with 2009, a figure that meant 60,000 fewer appeals, according to the study.

Study Says Fees May Be a Factor in Drop in Number of Appeals

Appeals may be easier to win, but fees imposed at various stages of the court process are a significant hurdle to motorists hoping to fight surcharges to their policy, especially in harder economic times, according to sources quoted in the report.

“People should not face excessive, hugely impractical barriers to getting fair access to the courts,” Christopher Ott, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

In Massachusetts, fighting insurance surcharges brings a $50 fee for the first hearing in front of the IBA. Motorists dissatisfied with that hearing’s results can further appeal their case to the Massachusetts Superior Court for a $240 fee. A $300 fee is imposed if motorists want to take their case further to the Massachusetts Appeals Court. Finally, if all appeals are rejected, motorists can take their case to the federal level by filing their case with the U.S. Supreme Court for a $350 fee.

“With all that cost and complexity, it’s not surprise that many drivers skip the process and pay the ticket instead,” author Beverly Ford said in an article accompanying the report.

In Massachusetts, the Safe Driver Insurance Plan (SDIP) establishes a rating structure that determines premium levels for both high-risk drivers and those with clean records. A step-by-step guide through the appeals process is posted on the state’s website.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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