Articles Posted in Uninsured Motorist

When someone is injured in a Florida car accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, many auto insurance policies will include uninsured motorist (UM) coverage benefits. In Florida, insurance stacking is often used to provide more expansive coverage for the insured. By stacking car insurance policies, the insured can obtain greater protection by combining UM coverage within the same policy or across different policies. For example, in a stackable policy, if someone has $50,000 in UM coverage on one car and $50,000 on a different vehicle, they may be able to stack the coverage limit to $100,000, even if the coverage is based on two separate policies. In unstacked insurance coverage, there is no aggregating of benefits, so the insured’s UM coverage limit is what is listed on the policy. Generally, Florida law allows for insurance stacking. However, there are limitations to this practice.

In a recent state appellate court decision, the plaintiffs were injured in a car accident caused by an uninsured motorist. The vehicle the plaintiffs were driving was not insured in their names, but under a separate non-stacking commercial policy issued by the defendant insurance company. Having several personal auto insurance policies of their own with stackable UM coverage, the plaintiffs attempted to combine them to maximize their benefits from the accident. However, the plaintiffs also wanted to receive a settlement from the commercial policy in addition to the benefits they had received from their personal aggregated coverage. In response, the defendant claimed that under their non-stacking policy, plaintiffs could not recover additional benefits from them if they had already elected to recover a UM settlement from their own stackable policies.

On appeal, the court upheld the trial court’s decision to deny the plaintiffs additional payment. Based on the commercial policy in question, the plaintiffs were injured in a vehicle that was not owned or insured by them, and thus, were only allowed to receive UM benefits under a single policy. Since the plaintiffs chose to receive their benefits from a policy other than the commercial policy covering the car they were injured in, the defendant did not have to pay any additional benefits to the plaintiffs. Additionally, based on Florida law and other contractual provisions governing the commercial policy, the plaintiffs could either collect non-stacked benefits from the defendant or receive their benefits from their personal stacked policies, but not both.

Earlier this month, an appellate court issued an opinion in a Florida personal injury case involving a pedestrian who was struck by a golf cart and sustained serious injuries. The case illustrates the difficulties that are common when dealing with an insurance company in the wake of a serious accident.

Unfortunately, the operator of the golf cart responsible for causing the accident did not have sufficient insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim for her injuries. Thus, the victim was forced to file a claim with her own insurance company, under the underinsured motorist provision. The case required the court to determine if the accident victim’s policy covered the accident.

The Plaintiff’s Insurance Policy

The plaintiff’s insurance policy provided for both liability protection as well as underinsured motorist protection. The language describing the policy’s liability protection included coverage for all accidents involving cars and trailers. However, the policy contained an exclusion for vehicles that were not generally used for public roads. That being said, the exclusion specifically excepted accidents involving non-owned golf carts from the exclusion.

Continue reading

In addition to determining fault, juries are often tasked with the responsibility of setting damages, the amount an injured party may recover from a liable party. Obviously, most jury members are not experts who are perfectly capable of setting a damages amount with mathematical certainty, and even though expert testimony is often enlisted to help guide juries, jury verdicts are often hotly disputed.  Although damages awards, like all jury determinations, are entitled to deference, a court does have discretion to alter a damages award it determines is too high or low. However, when a court exercises this power, disputes regarding the damages award are often just as bitter. Indeed, in a recent decision, Arnold v. Security Nat’l Ins. Co., the Fourth District Court of Appeal needed to address whether it was proper for a trial court to reduce a jury verdict the trial court considered excessive.

Arnold began with a car accident that left the plaintiff in this case seriously injured. The other driver did not have motor vehicle insurance, and the plaintiff brought suit against his personal uninsured motor vehicle insurance provider. In his complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered physical, emotional, and financial damage as a result of the uninsured driver’s negligence. The case ultimately proceeded to trial, at which the plaintiff produced expert testimony related to the past and future medical expenses he would likely incur as a result of a herniated disc resulting from the accident. His insurance company argued, however, that the plaintiff’s injuries were a result of prior injuries and dissociated, natural degenerative conditions.

Continue reading

Uninsured or underinsured motorists are not an uncommon problem in Florida. A recent study conducted by the Insurance Research Council showed that in 2012 Florida ranked second in the nation in the number of uninsured drivers, with approximately 3.2 million of the state’s drivers being uninsured at the time. In fact, Florida had only about a million fewer uninsured drivers than California, even though The Golden State boasts a population nearly twice the size of The Sunshine State. Beyond placing their personal pocketbooks in peril, uninsured and underinsured motorists often create legal hassles for those with whom they happen to collide. The sort of frustrations commonly occasioned by accidents with uninsured motorists are at the center of a recent case from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Geico General Insurance Company v. Paton. Paton involved a dispute between an injured passenger and an insurance company that refused to pay the full policy limit of uninsured motorist benefits following an accident involving an underinsured motorist.

The plaintiff in Paton was injured in a car accident resulting from the negligence of an underinsured driver on January 1, 2008. The driver’s insurance provider, Geico, paid the injured plaintiff $10,000, which was his policy limit. The injured plaintiff’s mother, however, maintained uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage with Geico with a policy limit of $100,000. The injured plaintiff’s attorney made a formal demand to Geico to pay the full policy limit. Geico objected and offered $1,000 in exchange. Subsequent negotiations followed, but Geico never offered more than $5,000 during the course of this back and forth. Eventually, the dispute went to trial, and a jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and fixed damages, including present and future pain and suffering, at $469,247. Geico did not move for a new trial, and judgment was entered in the plaintiff’s favor but limited to the $100,000 policy limit. The plaintiff then, with the leave of the court, amended her complaint to include a claim for bad faith under § 624.155 of the Florida Statutes. Before a second trial with respect to the added bad faith claim, the plaintiff moved in limine to exclude evidence of damages from the second trial and fix those damages at the amount that was not recovered at the first trial, $369,247. Geico then moved to exclude from evidence in the bad faith trial the damages awarded in the prior underinsured motorist trial and force the plaintiff to prove bad faith damages anew. The trial court granted the plaintiff’s motion and denied Geico. After a second trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff, and the court awarded damages of $369,247. Geico then appealed.

Continue reading

Contact Information