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Eighth Circuit Finds Lower Limit for Underinsured Motorist Policy in Trucking Crash – Munroe v. Continental Western Insurance

By November 15, 2013July 16th, 2019Trucking Accidents

Although I usually write about Missouri semi truck crashes that injure drivers of ordinary cars and trucks, trucking accidents sometimes also injure the truckers. This is less common because a truck is a very effective piece of armor, because it’s so much bigger than most of the other vehicles on the road. But when injuries to truckers happen, sorting out the insurance can be complex. And if an uninsured or underinsured motorist is involved, the situation can be complicated further by disagreements over fault and who should be liable for what. In Munroe v. Continental Western Insurance, truck driver Joshua Munroe of eastern Missouri was seriously injured in a multi-vehicle accident and tried to collect from his employers underinsured motorist policy. The district court ruled that Munroe and his wife could not “stack” their insurance claims, but found a high policy limit. The Eighth Circuit lowered that limit but agreed that there can be no stacking.
Munroe was seriously injured in a 2006 three-vehicle accident that the Eighth Circuit did not describe. He and his wife, Tiffany Munroe, settled with the tortfeasors. They then turned to the underinsured motorist portion of the employer’s commercial auto insurance policy, which has a $500,000 UIM limit and a $2 million bodily injury liability limit. In their tractor-trailer accident lawsuit, they argued that the policy permitted them up to $2 million in coverage. They also argued that the policy can be “stacked,” giving them the ability to make two claims against each of the three other drivers involved, for a total of $12 million in potential coverage. Continental moved for summary judgment declaring that its maximum liability is $500,000. The district court in eastern Missouri ultimately found that there could be no stacking, but found the policy ambiguous about whether the $500,000 or $2 million limit applied, so it applied the $2 million limit. The parties cross-appealed.
The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Munroes’ contention that the policy was ambiguous. The policy’s declarations page and UIM endorsement both show a $500,000 limit, the court noted. The policy selection form, which is also an endorsement to the policy, was blank as to the UIM coverage limit when the crash took place. A month later, the trucking company selected a $500,000 limit. However, the Eighth found this irrelevant; it said it must look to the policy in effect on the date of the collisions, and the policy’s declarations page and UIM endorsement both specified a limit of $500,000. Thus, it reversed the district court on the policy limit. However, it upheld the decision saying there could be no policy stacking. The Munroes did not timely raise the stacking issue, the court noted, but this didn’t preclude review. Nonetheless, the Eighth said, the policy contains an express anti-stacking provision saying the most it will pay is the limit shown in the policy’s schedule or declarations. This is not ambiguous, the court said, and the claimed ambiguity does not serve their goals in any case.
Presumably, Munroe has injuries and damages totaling far more than the $500,000 limit found by the Eighth Circuit, giving his family the motivation to pursue the higher limits in court. It’s a shame that he is unable to get the full amount of his damages from the driver or drivers who were at fault, and it’s also a shame that the limit of the underinsured motorist policy that applies is also not high enough to fairly compensate him. I write often here about how trucking companies’ attempts to save money can put other drivers at risk; the same is true for their own drivers, who may be asked to drive unsafe vehicles, or in unsafe conditions, to maximize the company’s profits. A big rig accident lawsuit against the trucking company may help injured drivers recover some of the costs related to the accident, including past and future medical bills; lost income from time off work; and damages for pain, suffering, disability or disfigurement. That’s true regardless of whether the driver is a trucker who trusted his or her employer, or an innocent third party.

Carey, Danis & Lowe represents clients across Missouri and southern Illinois who suffered serious injuries or lost a loved one because of a trucking crash that was no fault of their own. To learn more about your rights and your options at a free consultation, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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