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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Mo. SC rules underinsured motorist coverage was not ambiguous in fatal accident case

By Laura Halleman | Mar 21, 2017

Semi crash 02

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) – The Supreme Court of Missouri on March 14 reversed a lower court’s opinion, finding in favor of an insurance company following the death of a woman in a motor vehicle accident.

Shelter Mutual Insurance Co. appealed the verdict of a circuit court decision that would have given the family of a deceased woman $100,000 pursuant to underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) from the auto insurance policy. However, because the policy explicitly excludes UIM, the decision was reversed.

According to the court's decision, Angela Swadley’s vehicle was struck by a tractor-trailer driven by an employee of Silk Way Trans LLC, causing her vehicle to overturn. Swadley left the vehicle and was then struck and killed by a motorcyclist, who lost control and struck Swadley’s overturned vehicle, which she had exited.

Swadley’s family filed a wrongful death claim against the driver, Silk Way and the motorcyclist. They settled with the driver and Silk Way for $823,874.

The family then filed a claim with Shelter Insurance pursuant to their policy’s UIM coverage but the claim was denied. Shelter Insurance argued the tractor-trailer was not an underinsured motor vehicle as defined by the policy because Silk Way had liability coverage of $1 million, greater than the UIM limit listed in the declarations of the policy.

Shelter Insurance argued that UIM coverage doesn’t apply to the Swadley’s claim because the tractor-trailer was not an underinsured motor vehicle according to the policy’s definition. The Swadley’s argued that the policy, as a whole, is ambiguous and promises UIM coverage up to $100,000.

The court stated, “Nowhere does this policy expressly promise UIM coverage under every circumstance, and nowhere does it promise UIM coverage when the underinsured motorist has liability coverage equal to or greater than the UIM limit. Therefore, the policy is not rendered ambiguous by the fact that the policy's definition of "underinsured motor vehicle" restricts UIM coverage to applying only when the underinsured motorist has liability coverage less than the UIM limit.”

The Supreme Court decided after evaluating the insurance policy, UIM coverage unambiguously does not apply when the underinsured motorist has liability coverage equal or greater than $100,000.

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Missouri Supreme Court