How Does Uninsured Motorist Coverage Benefit Me Following a Car Accident?

Uninsured motorist (UM) coverage provides benefits when you are injured in a car accident caused by a driver who lacks sufficient insurance to compensate you for medical expenses, lost wages, and non-economic damages such as pain and suffering. Florida law requires all automobile insurance carriers to offer UM coverage, but unlike personal injury protection—i.e., no-fault insurance—you do not have to purchase it. It is still generally a good idea to have UM coverage, as it can provide benefits if you are injured while driving someone else’s car.

Divided Court Holds Insurer Not Liable for UM Coverage

There is, however, some legal confusion in Florida over when UM coverage applies to such situations. A recent decision by a divided appeals court in Lakeland illustrates the complexity of the problem. This case involves a car accident and two separate insurance policies issued by the same carrier. For the sake of convenience, we’ll refer to these as Policy A and Policy B.

The car itself belonged to a married couple who allowed their daughter to use the vehicle. All three were insured under Policy A. On the day of the accident, the daughter allowed a friend to drive. He was insured under Policy B, which was his mother’s policy.

According to court records, “[t]he accident happened when [the driver] attempted a right turn from the left lane and collided with a car waiting at a red light on the intersecting street.” The driver alleged the accident was due to the car having faulty brakes. He subsequently sued the daughter and her parents for negligence in failing to maintain their car. The insurance carrier declined to cover the family’s potential liability under Policy A, because the driver “was an insured under that policy by virtue of having been permitted to drive the car.”

Meanwhile, the daughter counter-sued the driver, claiming his negligent driving caused the accident and injured her. The insurer eventually paid to settle this claim under the terms of Policy B. The driver then sought uninsured motorist benefits under Policy A.

The insurer balked, arguing UM benefits were not available to the driver under Policy B because he was, in fact, driving a vehicle insured under the very same policy. In other words, by driving his friend’s vehicle with her permission, the car came under his insurance policy. There was therefore no “uninsured vehicle” involved in the accident.

A jury subsequently sorted out the question of who was responsible for the accident: It held the daughter and her family 92 percent liable for negligent maintenance and the driver 8 percent responsible for negligent driving. The trial court then ordered the insurance company to pay $150,000 in damages to the driver pursuant to his UM coverage under Policy B. The insurance company appealed.

In a June 3 decision, the Florida Second District Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reverse the trial court’s decision on the issue of UM coverage. The majority held the plain language of the policy “unambiguously excludes motor vehicles insured under its liability provisions from its scope.” This included the vehicle the driver was driving on the day of the accident. The dissenting judge argued this was “inequitable” given that the driver’s family paid for both bodily injury and UM coverage, and they should not be denied benefits under the latter just because benefits were also paid under the former.

Get Legal Help Following a Florida Car Accident

The dissenting judge noted this was a “case of first impression in Florida,” meaning other appellate courts in the state could reach a different conclusion based on a similar set of facts. The legal complexity of dealing with insurance policies is just one reason you should always work with an experienced Clearwater personal injury lawyer following any type of accident. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., at (727) 538-8865, if you need to speak with an attorney right away.

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