Bussman v. Safeco Ins. Co. – UIM Benefits Offset by Workers’ Compensation

In the recent case of Bussman v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., the injured party sought underinsured motorist benefits from her employer’s insurance company, following a crash that happened while she was working.
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But conflict arose partially because the insurance company challenged its total liability, arguing it should be offset by worker’s compensation benefits per state law.

In South Carolina, underinsured motorist benefits have been offset by workers’ compensation benefits since 1994, per South Carolina Code 38-77-220, which addresses additional liability automobile insurance policy need not cover. However, our Anderson injury lawyers know it wasn’t until the 2010 South Carolina Supreme Court decision in Sweester v. South Carolina Department of Insurance Reserve Fund that the high court actually addressed the issue head-on.

In the Sweester case, the individual was injured as a passenger in his employer’s vehicle, which was struck by an uninsured driver. The injured worker filed a workers’ compensation claim and received $13,500 in workers’ compensation benefits. Additionally, he filed a civil lawsuit against the other driver for damages.

In the meantime, he filed a claim with his employer’s insurance company for uninsured motorist benefits. The employer’s insurance policy allowed for $15,000 in uninsured motorist benefits (the minimum required by S.C. Code Ann. ยง 38-77-150), but a clause in that policy indicated that amount would be offset by compensation benefits.

The appellant sought a determination on whether his workers’ compensation benefits could be offset against his underinsured motorist benefits if the result of that offset would be to reduce his recovery of insurance benefits to under $15,000. The trial court found the insurance company’s offset clause was both valid and enforceable, even if the effect reduced the overall recovery amount to below the statutory minimum. The state supreme court confirmed.

In this case, it meant that the injured man could only collect up to $1,500 from the insurance company for underinsured motorist benefits.

It was a similar issue in the recent Bussman case out of Kansas. The company sought extrication from responsibility for paying future medical expenses of the plaintiff as part of the underinsured motorist coverage benefits, claiming that those expenses had already been awarded under her workers’ compensation policy.

A jury had found the other driver in this case 100 percent at-fault, awarding the injured worker a total of $115,500 in damages, which included $20,000 for future medical expenses.

The insurance company subsequently filed a claim for a credit of $51,500, which had been paid by the workers’ compensation benefits, plus credit for the $20,000, which was also covered by these benefits.

The trial court allowed the $51,500 credit, but not the $20,000 credit. However, the state supreme court reversed on this issue, finding that failing to provide the $20,000 credit would have resulted in a duplicative award.

Those injured in employment-related crashes in South Carolina have more to consider than someone involved in a wreck on their own time in their own personal vehicle. In these cases, injured parties can benefit from consulting with a legal firm with experience in both workers’ compensation and car accident injury.

If you have been injured in an Anderson car accident, contact the Lee Law Offices today by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Bussman v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., February 2014, Kansas Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Lunsford v. Mills: Fighting for Insurance Coverage, Dec. 11, 2013, Anderson Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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