Car insurance is supposed to be a safety net, not only for those who purchase the policy, but for others on the road as well.
There are underinsured and uninsured motorist benefits for those injured by an uninsured driver or an at-fault motorist who lacks adequate insurance. But in some cases, even those who purchase decent plans may not realize they are not as fully covered as they might presume. Those injured in a car accident in West Palm Beach – may learn that “safety net” is in fact riddled with holes.
The reality is, many auto insurance policies have scores of exclusions in the fine print. These exclusions limit who is covered, when they are covered and to what extent they are covered.
That means the person injured either has to fight that exclusion as unlawful or turn to his or her own insurance company for uninsured motorist benefits.
In the recent case of Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. v. Bahr-Renner, reviewed by the North Dakota Supreme Court, the issue was whether a daughter involved in an auto accident was covered under her mother’s insurance policy.
Many car insurance policies will cover not only the primary insured, but also all “family members” or “household members.” In some situations, this is a fairly straightforward determination. However, in other cases, the classification is a bit murky.
The Nodak case began in 2010 when a woman driving a pickup truck that she co-owned with her mother collided with another vehicle. Her mother was killed, and several occupants in the other vehicle were seriously injured.
The driver of the pickup was covered under her mother’s insurance policy, which allowed for bodily injury liability limits of $100,000 per person or $300,000 per accident. However, the policy indicated a step-down injury limit of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident (the statutory minimum) for instances when the vehicle was driven by someone who was not a “family member.”
In this case, the definition of “family member” was called into question. There was no dispute that the driver was the daughter of the insured. However, as far as the insurance company was concerned, “family member” is defined as someone related to the insured and also a member of the household.
In this case, the North Dakota home where the insured lived was co-owned by her daughter. However, the daughter had reportedly never actually lived in the home, and hadn’t lived with her parents since the early 1970s. She had lived in Switzerland primarily since that time, owning a business and property there, and also possessing a residence permit. However, she voted in the 2008 and 2012 American elections via absentee ballot, noting her mother’s address as her own.
The insurance company argued that it was only responsible for paying the statutory minimum because the driver of the vehicle was not in fact a resident of the insured’s household.
During a bench trial (solely before a judge), the district court sided with the insurance company, finding that the driver was not a household member of the primary insurance holder, and therefore, the insurance company was only responsible for paying the statutory minimum.
The plaintiffs who had been injured appealed. They lost, as the North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s decision. Dealing with policy exclusions of insurance companies can be difficult. We focus exclusively on providing legal help to the injured.
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.
Nodak Mutual Insurance Co. v. Bahr-Renner, Feb. 14, 2014, North Dakota Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Teens Face Deadliest Risks for Car Accidents in South Florida, Feb. 20, 2014, Hollywood Car Accident Lawyer Blog