As a Missouri personal injury lawyer, I spend a lot of time fighting insurance companies that don’t want to provide the coverage their insureds have already bought and paid for. Insurance companies make more money when they don’t pay out claims, making them one of the few industries where there is an incentive to not provide the service. As a result, when catastrophic and expensive accidents take place, the insurance companies frequently start looking for ways to avoid paying claims, even when their own contracts say they must. In Argonaut Great Central Insurance v. Casey et al, the insurer responsible for paying claims in a catastrophic bus accident filed an action seeking to deposit $2 million into a fund for the claimants, rather than the $3 million that was the total available. The Arkansas district court and the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the full $3 million applied.
A bus belonging to the First Baptist Church of Bentonville was involved in a single-vehicle accident. Two people died and numerous other people suffered serious injuries. The church had a $1 million general auto insurance policy and a $1 million uninsured/underinsured motorist policy, as well as a third $1 million commercial umbrella policy providing excess coverage for auto accidents. Argonaut filed a diversity interpleader action in Arkansas federal court, seeking to deposit $2 million into the court’s registry, which excluded the UIM coverage. The claimants, who were the named defendants, counterclaimed that the policy limits also included the $1 million in UIM coverage. The district court granted summary judgment for the claimants, but permitted immediate appeals. Argonaut immediately appealed.
It had no better luck with the Eighth Circuit, which sided with the claimants. The court said it was not disputed that the liability and UIM policies both applied to the claimants, since the accident was caused by the driver, a church employee, and that driver was underinsured relative to the number of claims being made. However, Argonaut argued that the language in the policies limited the recovery to $1 million across both policies, even though they were in total $2 million in insurance. Parsing these contracts, the Eighth Circuit found that the UIM coverage was expressly additional or sequential to liability coverage. It found that language meant the UIM insurance was “clearly stated as aggregate coverage,” and ruled that none of Argonaut’s arguments about other policy language were strong enough to override such a clear statement. Thus, it upheld the district court.
I’m not surprised to see an insurance company fight so vigorously for a contract interpretation that was dismissed so quickly. In my experience as a St. Louis car crash attorney, insurance companies are frequently willing to spend a lot of money on lawyers to avoid paying the money they are legally obligated to pay. They may see this as an investment, since the same contract may be interpreted by the courts again in the future. However, the effect is that injured people are denied or delayed in their attempts to get fair financial compensation. That’s money that injured people and their families can use to pay for needed medical care, make ends meet while they cannot work and accommodate a serious disability or a missing loved one. As a southern Illinois motor vehicle accident lawyer, I am proud to help injured people get this compensation when roadblocks are thrown up in their way.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries because of someone else’s negligence behind the wheel, don’t hesitate to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for a free consultation. You can send us an email or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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