Miss. Supreme Court rules in favor of insurance companies in couple's appeal

By Zachary Lewis | Mar 20, 2017

JACKSON, Miss. (Legal Newsline) – A couple have lost their appeal to the Mississippi Supreme Court against two insurance companies in an attempt to assert rights to additional payments in a loss-of-consortium suit.

The justices ruled March 9 the insurance companies had fulfilled their obligations as per the policies’ language.

The appeal, filed by plaintiffs Richard and Beth Rylee, argued against a Jones County Circuit Court ruling that Beth Rylee was not entitled to any additional payments in a derivative loss-of-consortium claim, stating the claim was included in the defendant’s previous payment. The Mississippi Supreme Court justices found their argument was without merit under the policies’ clear language and legal precedents.  

According to court documents, the Rylees owned auto insurance policies through two separate financial service companies, Progressive Gulf and USAA Casualty. On Jan. 19, 2011, Richard Rylee was injured in a motorcycle accident with another motorist, Jessica Brashier, in Laurel, Mississippi. The accident prompted three insurance policies, Brashier’s, who was covered by State Farm with a liability up to $25,000 and Richard Rylee’s, through USAA and Progressive Gulf.

Both of the Rylees’ policies provided the same types and amounts of coverage, $25,000 per-person with a $50,000 per-accident limit with uninsured motorist coverage. Progressive Gulf was considered the primary insurer covering his motorcycle with USAA covering the Rylees’ two other vehicles.

USAA had tendered $50,000 in uninsured motorist coverage and State Farm, the $25,000 per person limit to Richard Rylee. But Progressive Gulf had denied their claim since Brashier’s insurer State Farm had paid $25,000 in liability.

The Rylees filed separate loss-of-consortium suits on behalf of Beth Rylee against Brashier, Progressive, and USAA claiming Beth Rylee should receive additional payment due to her husband's injuries. Progressive and USAA requested motions of summary judgments arguing the loss-of-consortium claim had already been tendered from USAA and $25,000 State Farm policy limit for “each person” injured in the accident. The defendants’ suits were consolidated and their motions granted. The court found in favor of the insurers, leaving the plaintiffs an option to appeal.

On appeal, justices William L. Waller Jr., James W. Kitchens and James D. Maxwell II upheld the original court ruling after reviewing the individual policies. Both policies contained provisions which would allow derivative claims exceeding the “each person” limit only in the event of more than one person sustaining bodily injury.

Moreover, the cases the Rylees cited in their appeal had not considered the “each person” policy limits, according to the justices.  

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