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Articles Tagged with underinsured motorists

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One of the first things that future attorneys learn in law school is that a court must have jurisdiction before it can act in a particular case. This power of the court to act is two-fold. The court must have both personal jurisdiction (power over the persons or corporations named in the suit), and it must have subject matter jurisdiction (authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter). If either is missing, the court lacks the power to adjudicate the matter and must dismiss the case.

In the recent unpublished opinion of Taylor v. Bristol West Insurance Company, the Jefferson Circuit Court was called upon to decide whether a Kentucky trial court had jurisdiction over an insurance company that issued a motor vehicle insurance policy to an Indiana resident who was later involved in a car accident in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

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Regardless of the merits of a party’s complaint, it will never be heard unless the courts find that it was timely filed. Failure to comply with the statute of limitations isn’t just a small “technicality.” It is a deal breaker when it comes to negligence litigation. A recent underinsured motorist claim case in Kentucky highlighted the importance of hitting deadlines.

It can also be a mistake to file suit on the eve of the running of the statute of limitations. As the plaintiff in the case set out below discovered, waiting until shortly before the expiration of the limitations period can be very costly.

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Most drivers carry at least some uninsured/underinsured motorist protection, but many do not understand the difficulties that may arise when it comes time to make a claim under this coverage. Unfortunately, simply having an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist does not automatically result in a payout by the insurance company, even when the insured’s injuries are catastrophic or fatal.

Instead, the insured person (or his or her family, in the event of a wrongful death), must negotiate a settlement with the insurance company or proceed to trial against the uninsured person and obtain a verdict. Even then, the insurance company has a right to appeal the verdict on the grounds that it was improper or excessive. This is exactly what happened in the recent Tennessee case of Monypeny v. Kheiv.

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The Tennessee Court of Appeals in Nashville has upheld a choice of law provision that was included in an auto insurance policy. In Williams v. Smith, a couple and their young child were injured in a Putnam County, Tennessee car wreck that was caused by another driver. The accident was a head-on collision. At the time of the accident, the couple was headed east in a vehicle they borrowed from a North Carolina couple. Although the vehicle was registered in North Carolina, the owners of the vehicle secured liability insurance in Missouri in order to cover their college-age daughter while she was away at school. The accident policy included a Missouri choice of law provision and included uninsured motorist coverage of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. The policy did not include underinsured motorist coverage because it is not required under Missouri law.

The driver who caused the Tennessee car wreck carried the minimum liability limits of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per incident as required by Tennessee law. Following the crash, the hurt family sought additional damages from the company that insured the vehicle they borrowed in a Tennessee court. Although the accident occurred in Tennessee, the issue in the case surrounded whether North Carolina or Missouri law applied to the insurance dispute. Since North Carolina requires a driver to carry liability coverage of $30,000 per person and $60,000 per accident, the at-fault motorist would be considered an uninsured motorist under North Carolina law. If, however, Missouri law controlled, the man was simply an underinsured motorist, and the family was not entitled to collect additional benefits.

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2014-10-17 11.08.20

State laws vary when it comes to uninsured motorists coverage. Our personal injury attorneys are licensed to practice in both Kentucky and Tennessee and see these type of cases often.In a case decided by the Kentucky Court of Appeals recently, the issue of which state laws applied in an uninsured motorist case was handled by the court. The case is Grange Property and Casualty Company vs. Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company. The dispute arose after two motorists were in an accident in Pike County, which is in Eastern Kentucky. Grange Ferlin Pruitt, the operator of one of the vehicles, was driving a vehicle owned by his employer, Drill Steel Services. The other driver,  Allison Comer, had no insurance. Drill Steel Services insured Pruitt’s vehicle with Grange Property and Casualty Company, which had policy limits for Uninsured Motorists of $1 million. Pruitt also had a personal insurance policy from Tennessee Farmers, which provided coverage of up to $100,000 for accidents involving uninsured motorists. Allison Comer died as a result of the accident. Pruitt was injured.

Comer had crossed the center line and struck Pruitt’s vehicle and was responsible for the injuries he suffered, but because Comer was not insured, the only payout he could receive was from his own insurance company’s uninsured or underinsured motorists provisions. He settled with Grange, and Grange sought to recover the $100,000 policy limit from Tennessee Mutual, arguing that the company was responsible for the payment under Kentucky’s pro-rata law. Tennessee Mutual argued that Tennessee law applied, and Pike County Circuit Court agreed with Tennessee Mutual.

Grange appealed the case to the Kentucky Court of Appeals, which affirmed the lower court’s decision. The court agreed that Grange had the greater duty to cover Pruitt, and argued that Grange’s policy should pay out first, and Tennessee Mutual’s policy would only kick in if damages exceeded $1 million. Drill Steel Services is a Kentucky-based corporation.

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