When a person is involved in a motor vehicle accident, he or she typically expects there to be a dispute about who was at fault or how much the claim is worth. What most people do not expect, however, is that a “routine” car accident case can quickly escalate into a battle with one’s own insurance company.
A recent case decided by Kentucky’s intermediate court of appeals illustrates the difficulties that can arise when an insured’s expectations as to what is provided under a policy do not line up with the language of the actual document. The case came down to what type of insurance would be paying the claim: uninsured motorist or liability insurance coverage.
Facts of the Case
In the (unpublished) opinion of Simmons v. GEICO Indemnity Company, the plaintiff was the executrix of the estate of a man who was killed in a car accident. At the time of the wreck, the man was riding as a passenger in a vehicle that he owned but that was being driven by his step-son. The step-son, who was at fault in the accident, was an “additional driver” under the policy. The defendant insurance company provided liability insurance coverage of up to $25,000 per person ($50,000 per occurrence) and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage of $25,000 per person.
The plaintiff, acting as executrix and in her individual capacity, filed suit against the insurance company, seeking a declaratory judgment that the estate was entitled to UIM benefits. The insurance company insisted that there was no UIM coverage for the collision because the vehicle driven by the step-son was not an underinsured auto under the terms of the policy. The trial court found in the insurance company’s favor, and the plaintiff appealed.
The Court of Appeals’ Decision
The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision. According to the court, the sole issue on appeal was whether the decedent was entitled to UIM benefits under his own insurance policy with the defendant for the accident that claimed his life. The court found that the clear and unambiguous terms of the defendant’s policy revealed that UIM coverage was not available under the circumstances.
The court found that the trial court’s decision was consistent with Kentucky’s underinsured motorist statute, Kentucky Rev. Stat. § 304.39-320, which states that UIM is available when a judgment recovered against the owner of the “other vehicle” exceeds the liability policy limits. The court interpreted the statute as meaning that the underinsured tortfeasor must be operating a different vehicle from the vehicle providing the UIM coverage for the claimant.
In so holding, the court noted that an insurance policy could authorize recovery under both liability and UIM provisions, but it found that the policy at issue contained no such endorsements. The court was likewise unpersuaded by the plaintiff’s argument that UIM coverage should be provided under the doctrine of reasonable expectations.
If You Need to Talk to an Attorney About a Car Accident
Car and truck accidents wreak much havoc on those involved. It is not unusual for disputes to arise not only as to who was at fault but also as to whether a given insurance policy (or sometimes multiple policies) provide coverage. A knowledgeable injury attorney can help you understand your legal rights concerning compensation for your injuries. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced Bowling Green car accident attorney, call English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley at (270) 781-6500 and ask for an appointment to discuss your Kentucky or Tennessee accident case.
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