Mass. Bikers Challenge Rate Decision; Seek Return of $100 Million

December 31, 2003

The Massachusetts Division of Insurance and the Automobile Insurers Bureau are in a legal fight with the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association, which has filed suit in the state’s highest court, claiming the Commissioner of Insurance’s rate decision for 2004 was unfair and discriminatory.

The bikers also want their money back. The suit claims insurers have collected over $100 million in excessive profits from motorcycle premiums in the past three years and asks the Supreme Court to review the matter.

“For two years at public rate hearings we’ve brought these issues of coverage not available to motorcycle consumers to the Commissioner and the Auto Insurers Bureau (AIB),” stated Betsy Lister of Medford, a member of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Motorcycle Association (MMA) and the owner of a Medford insurance agency. “And for two years we’ve been put off,” She added.

Insurance Commissioner Julianne Bowler issued the 2004 rate decision on Dec. 15, 2003. By law, any party aggrieved by the Decision has 20 days to file suit at the SJC. The suit was filed by a majority of the MMA’s Board of Directors, individually and “on behalf of others similarly situated,” and includes the Auto Insurers Bureau as a named defendant.

Paul W. Cote of Amesbury, the MMA’s legislative director, said his organization felt compelled to file the suits because the “Commissioner and State Rating Bureau rely upon the historical claims and expense data provided by the AIB on behalf of the insurers.” However, “Our review of the motorcycle historic loss data, which is buried with the auto stats, shows insurers are making in excess of a 300 percent profit on the motorcycle line of business in Massachusetts. That’s unconscionable, and we want it back!”

Cote stressed that neither the Division nor the AIB dispute these figures. “They haven’t told us where we are wrong,” he continued. “If we are wrong, they’ll show us in Court. The AIB could have avoided this litigation had they been up front with us,” he added.

Lister said the suit requests the Court to order the Commissioner to provide optional coverage similar to those available to other motor vehicle consumers and retroactive relief for overcharging motorcyclists excessive premiums. “With optional coverage, the ‘option’ is supposed to be for the consumer, not the insurer,” Lister stressed. “Motorcyclists have limited options.”

Bowler’s decision gave the AIB until June 1, 2004 to come up with another rating system for motorcycles in Massachusetts, with an expected implementation for January 2005. “Why should the 144,000 ‘citizen-bikers’ in this State wait another year, paying purely grossly excessive premiums with limited coverage?” asked Cote.

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