As a Missouri auto accident lawyer, I sometimes use a practice called “stacking” to increase the amount of money my clients are eligible to recover. Stacking means applying more than one insurance policy to the same accident. This might take place if the driver carried one insurance policy for each vehicle in the home, or if he or she had coverage for a business as well as personal coverage. For accident victims hit by someone whose primary insurance policy won’t cover the entire cost of the injuries the crash caused, this can help. However, insurance companies dislike the extra cost of stacking policies, and have started including anti-stacking clauses in their policies. Those clauses were put to the test in the Eighth Circuit’s recent decision in Marie DeMeo v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.
DeMeo was crossing the street on foot in a marked crosswalk when she was hit by a pickup truck driven by Patrick McGinness. The pickup was owned and insured by McGinness’s daughter. DeMeo sued in Missouri state court and won a judgment of $350,000, but the daughter’s insurance company had a policy limit of only $100,000. After collecting that, DeMeo sought to recover from McGinness’s four auto insurance policies — one for each car he owned. These covered him for accidents driving a non-owned car, but included anti-stacking provisions. State Farm, the insurer, paid DeMeo only the limit of one policy, which was $50,000. DeMeo sued to stack the other policies and the federal district court granted summary judgment. State Farm appealed.
On appeal, the insurer argued that the district court was wrong to find that the three policies at issue were “excess coverage,” thus rendering the clear anti-stacking provisions ambiguous. The Eighth distinguished this case from earlier Missouri appeals cases, which involved clauses saying the coverage was in excess over “any other collectable insurance.” In this case, by contrast, the State Farm policies provide that their coverage are excess only over insurance on a “non-owned car.” This is clear and does not create the ambiguity that the district court cited, the Eighth said. Thus, the district court was wrong to find that the contract was ambiguous enough to justify ignoring the unambiguous anti-stacking clause, and it denied DeMeo the chance to stack them. It declined an opportunity to clarify how the situation could be addressed through Missouri law on minimum coverage.
This decision denies DeMeo the full extent of the damages she won, which always disappoints me as a St. Louis car accident attorney. Ideally, everyone who drives should carry more insurance than the state-mandated minimum, to avoid situations like this. Unfortunately, this is not practical for every budget and every vehicle, which means people can be left without the money they need to be fully compensated for an accident. The money has a serious purpose; people injured in car wrecks can be very badly injured, which often leads to high hospital and followup medical bills — even with health insurance. Part of my job as a southern Illinois pedestrian accident lawyer is to help victims collect the best possible settlement for their injuries.
If you or someone in your family suffered serious injuries because of a driver’s negligence, Carey, Danis & Lowe can help. For a free, confidential evaluation of your case, send us a message online or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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