In many car accident lawsuits, there are often more than one insurance company with potential liability or some other stake. This can complicate matters for the injured person, who must ensure their rights and interests are protected during the proceedings.
Insurance companies pay experienced attorneys to duke it out in court on their behalf, and car accident injury victims need to make sure their interests aren’t lost in the shuffle.
The recent case of Countryway Ins. co. v. United Financial Cas. Ins. Co. involved two insurance companies who were fighting over the apportionment of uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and which should be responsible – and to what extent – for these benefits paid to injured plaintiff.
According to Kentucky Supreme Court records,a crash occurred in September 2007 in Bowling Green when a passenger in a semi-tractor trailer, owned and operated by her son, was involved in a collision with a passenger vehicle, owned and operated by an uninsured driver. That uninsured driver had caused the crash. There was no dispute of that driver’s negligence or that being the sole cause of the collision, which resulted in significant injuries to plaintiff.
The question was who should help pay for plaintiff’s injuries.
The tractor-trailer was insured by United Financial, which offered an uninsured motorist policy of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. Plaintiff, as someone occupying that vehicle, was an “additional insured” under that policy. Meanwhile, plaintiff was a named insured on a policy from Countryway, which allowed for uninsured motorist coverage of up to $100,000 per person or $300,000 per accident.
Although neither the company denied plaintiff was an insured under their respective policies, both denied her claim for uninsured motorist benefits. Each argued that the other company’s liability came first, and they would not pay until the other did.
As a result, plaintiff filed a lawsuit seeking a declaration of which carrier’s coverage should apply. Countryway moved for a determination of priority. While that claim was pending – and more than four years after the crash – United settled with plaintiff for $22,500. United argued that its coverage was in excess of her other UM coverage, as she was only covered under united as a “vehicle occupant.” However, Countryway still argued that because she was injured in a vehicle she didn’t own, it was Countryway’s policy that was in excess. Countryway argued that United’s attempt to limit coverage of certain occupants in an insured vehicle was contrary to established practice in that state.
Trial court ruled against Countryway in finding that in finding the excess provisions of each policy basically canceled each other out, so that each company was liable for plaintiff’s damages on a pro rata basis. That means they were responsible for damages based on the proportion of each share of coverage they provided.
Countryway appealed. The Court of Appeals, noting concerns for the drawn out apportionment disputes clogging up the courts, abolished the rule of apportionment, noting this would result in faster resolution to victims’ claims. Here, the court determined it should be the accident victim’s insurer – rather than the vehicle insurer – that should be liable. Therefore, it made Countrway solely liable for plaintiff’s damages.
On appeal, the Kentucky Supreme Court reversed. The reason largely had to do with the fact that the appellate court overstepped its bounds in answering questions that were outside of its purview and beyond that of what was asked by the appealing insurer. The stat high court ruled the appeals court erred in fixing primary liability for UM coverage on the accident victim’s insurer, as opposed to the insurer of the vehicle in the accident.
The ruling was reversed and remanded.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Countryway Ins. co. v. United Financial Cas. Ins. Co. , Aug. 25, 2016, Kentucky Supreme Court
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