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.