9 - Board of Appeal
The mission of the Board of Appeal is to conduct hearings for consumers appealing:
- The determination by an insurer that the insured was primarily at-fault for a motor vehicle accident
- A decision of the Registry of Motor Vehicles regarding a license suspension, revocation or denial
- An insurance cancellation issued to a consumer by their insurance company
9.2 2009 Goals
Reduce the backlog of pending appeals. A waiting period of no more than 6 months is considered an acceptable length of time between the notice of at-fault determination and hearing date. As of December 31, 2009 there were approximately 18,500 appeals pending and a waiting time of 6 - 8 months for a hearing.
9.3 Primary Activities
On average, the Board's hearing officers hear approximately 40,000 - 50,000 at-fault accident determination appeal cases and 4,000 - 5,000 appeals of Registry actions per year. In addition to hearings, the Board responds to consumer inquiries and researches legal issues, proposes new legislation and works with the Office of the Attorney General to defend the Board's decisions in Superior Court.
Hearings before the Board of Appeal are conducted under the guidelines of M.G.L. c. 30A, although the Board has also promulgated its own Practice and Procedure regulations for surcharge appeals - 211 C.M.R. 88.00.
Hearings on At-fault Accident Determinations
Each automobile insurance carrier administers a unique system of adjusting premiums based on an operator's driving record. Typically, these merit rating plans decrease premiums for years of incident-free driving, and increase premiums for operators with at-fault accidents or traffic citations. These premium adjustments create a financial incentive that encourages safer driving.
A driver who feels he or she is not at fault for an accident may elect to have a hearing in order to contest that fault determination. These hearings only look at whether a driver is more than 50% at fault for the accident and deserves the financial penalty. This process ensures that each company's merit rating plan is being run fairly and equitably.
If the Board finds that the insurer's determination of fault was not in accordance with the Standards of Fault promulgated by the Commissioner, the at-fault determination is vacated. The insurer must then refund any additional collected premium to the appellant. If the Board finds that the insurer's determination of fault was in accordance with the Standards of Fault, the determination is upheld. The Board conducted 41,147 surcharge appeal hearings in 2009.
In addition to its primary office in Boston, the Board held hearings at thirteen additional satellite locations throughout the Commonwealth. Depending on hearing officer availability, seasonal schedules and travel capability, satellite hearing locations conducted between 575 and 7475 hearings per location. The Chairman of the Board and the hearing officers have primarily been responsible for securing geographically convenient locations throughout the Commonwealth to conduct these additional surcharge hearings. In July, the Board lost the Natick location due to the closure of the Natick courthouse. Drivers who would have been scheduled at the Natick location are instead being scheduled at the Waltham, Marlboro and Worcester locations. The Board also lost its satellite location in Plymouth last July due to the lack of office space at the Plymouth RMV. Drivers who would have been scheduled at the Plymouth location are instead being scheduled in South Yarmouth and Brockton.
In 2009, 1,652 dockets were conducted involving 23 different insurance companies. Each docket typically contains 25 scheduled accident determination hearings
Registry of Motor Vehicle Action Appeal Hearings
The Board has jurisdiction to hear appeals from any decision or ruling of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles. Board members review testimony, documentation and laws applicable to the appeal and make a decision in the dispute. If the decision allows a licensing privilege to be reinstated partially or fully the appellant must take the decision to the Registry of Motor Vehicles to complete the required administrative procedures to become reinstated. A favorable decision is not a license - it allows the appellant to go the Registry to become reinstated.
The Board does not review license suspensions arising from a chemical test refusal or statutory revocation pursuant to a court order.
Automobile Insurance Cancellation Appeal Hearings
The Board also hears complaints arising from automobile insurance cancellations. The complaint must be filed before the cancellation date. If it is, the policy remains in effect until the Board has issued its decision. If an appeal is filed after the cancellation date, but within 10 days of cancellation, the appeal is heard, but the cancellation will still take effect.
A complaint may not be filed:
- If a policy has been secured from another insurance company
- For non-payment of premium on a registered taxicab or fleet of taxicabs
- On a cancellation of a policy effected by a finance company
- If a company refuses to issue a policy