In many types of personal injury claims – including car accidents – there may be grounds for a loss of consortium claim. This is a cause of action available to family members of a person injured or killed by the wrongful or negligent acts of someone else.
The question before the Mississippi Supreme Court in a recent motorcycle accident case was whether that loss of consortium claim could be claimed as a separate “per person limit” under an auto insurance policy. The that court reached answer: No.
The reason? It has to do with the fact that loss of consortium claims are reliant and contingent upon the injury or death of another. Unless the person claiming loss of consortium was also injured, he or she cannot claim a separate “per person limit.”
In this case, as with most auto insurance policies, there was a per-person limit and a per-accident limit.
According to court records, the facts of the motorcycle accident are not disputed. In January 2011, a man on a motorcycle was injured while in a collision with a vehicle. Motorcyclist’s wife was not with him at the time of the crash.
The accident triggered three insurance policies. Those were:
- Defendant car driver’s $25,000 liability limit;
- Motorcyclist’s uninsured motorist coverage, which provided $25,000 per-person and $50,000 per-accident limit;
- Motorcyclist’s second UIM policy, which also provided $25,000 per-person and $50,000 per-accident limit.
Defendant insurer paid plaintiff the $25,000 liability limit. Motorcyclist’s second insurer paid $50,000 – one for each of the two vehicles covered under the stacked policy. However, the first insurer refused to pay UIM coverage, citing defendant’s $25,000 payment, which it claimed completely offset its $25,000 per-person UIM limit. Case law in that state set precedent recognizing an insurer’s right to offset UIM coverage by the amount paid by tortfeasors.
In May 2013, motorcyclist’s wife filed a loss of consortium action against the at-fault driver and both insurers. The insurers both filed for summary judgment, arguing the loss-of-consortium claim was derivative of the “each person” limit – which had been off-set in the case of one insurer and already paid by another. A year later, the motorcyclist also filed lawsuits against the same three entities. The claims were consolidated, and insurers again filed for summary judgment.
The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of the two insurers.
Plaintiffs appealed, prompting review from the Mississippi Supreme Court. Plaintiffs did not challenge the court’s finding that motorcyclist had already received the full policy limits to which he was entitled. What they argued was that the court was wrong to rule that his wife was not entitled to further payments from either insurer on her loss of consortium claim.
The state supreme court disagreed, finding that the argument lacked both precedent and merit. Under the policy’s language and the court’s precedent, motorcyclist’s spouse “simply cannot” receive anything beyond that “each person” limit.
The court noted the language in the policy was clear and unambiguous. Although plaintiffs argued there was precedent to find the loss of consortium claim to be “separate and distinct,” rather than derivative. Justices, however, rejected this claim, affirming the finding of the lower court.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Rylee v. Progressive Gulf Insurance Co., March 9, 2017, Mississippi Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Court: Auto Insurance Still Required Despite Driver’s Sudden Emergency, March 10, 2017, Car Accident Attorney Blog