Are Limitations Periods in Mortality or Major Medical Policies Enforcable?

Equine mortality and major medical insurance policies often contain a provision stipulating that any action or proceeding under the policy must be brought within a certain period of time, typically one year. 

Absent a contractual provision to the contrary, the statute of limitations applicable to an action based in contract will apply to an action under an insurance policy (for example, an insurance coverage dispute). 

Are contractual limitations periods in insurance policies enforceable?  Generally, courts will enforce the limitations provisions unless they violate limitations-related statutory law in the state the policy was issued or delivered, or in the state where the law suit is brought.  In rarer instances, courts have refused to enforce insurance policy limitations periods because they were judicially interpreted to be "unreasonable."

Statutory prohibitionsSome states have statutes voiding limitations periods that are shorter than a given period of time.  Thus, the limitations-related statutes in the state in which you are seeking to enforce your policy must be consulted to determine the applicability of a given provision.  Under Texas law, any contractual limitations period is void if it is shorter than two (2) years.  See Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Section 16.070(a).  In Maryland, an insurance or surety contract cannot set a shorter time to bring an action under the contract than required by the state where the insurance contract is issued or delivered.  See Section 12-104 of the Maryland Insurance Code.  Maryland has a 3 year statue of limitations for contract actions.  Thus, a one-year contractual limitations period in an equine insurance policy would be void in Texas and Maryland.  Absent such statutory prohibitions, however, the contractual limitations period in the insurance contract will be enforced.

Does the limitations period in the policy cover my tort-related claim of "bad faith" denial of coverage or "unreasonable delay"?  Probably.  Many insured litigants argue that their tort claims such as bad faith are not covered under the contractual limitations period because the tort claim is not a "claim under the policy."  Although courts have entertained (and sometimes agreed with) this argument, according to insurance fraud lawyer Rick Hammond, the weight of the cases tend to enforce the statutory limitations period for all claims related to the policy.  Of course, the contractual limitations period will not apply to any claim if it is void under state law, as discussed above.