As a St. Louis car crash attorney, I like to warn my clients early and often that their insurance companies do not have their best interests in mind. Auto insurance is more profitable when insurers pay less in claims, and that means lowballing or denying claims whenever they believe they can. Sometimes, this is taken so far that it actually breaches the contract between the insurer and the insured, requiring a lawsuit to settle the claim. In Adams v. King et al, the lawsuit eventually created no fewer than three appellate court decisions, all filed by the insurance company seeking to avoid paying benefits. David, Landon and La Crysta Adams were hit by an at-fault driver and their insurer, Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., declined their uninsured motorist claim. In this decision, the appeals court reiterated that Shelter Mutual must pay the claim and denied it appeal of the “stacking” of insurance policies.
The opinion by the Missouri Appeals Court did not go into the facts of the crash, possibly because this was the third time the case had been before it. The first time, the appeals court reversed a grant of summary judgment to Shelter Mutual, finding that the at-fault driver had been driving an uninsured vehicle within the policy’s meaning. In the second appeal, the court reiterated that the Adams family was entitled to a declaratory judgment on the uninsured motorist claim, but sent the case back for resolution of breach of contract and vexatious refusal claims. In this appeal, the third, the appeals court declined to revisit the issue further, citing the law of the case doctrine without further comment.
The appellate court spent more time on the insurance company’s second point, which challenged the trial court’s decision to allow the family to stack its three insurance policies. Under “stacking,” insurance policy holders apply more than one policy to the same incident, allowing them to collect the maximum from each policy as long as all the policies apply to the situation. The facts of the case have been stipulated, the court noted; the dispute is a matter of law. Under Missouri caselaw, the court said, Missouri clearly allows stacking, and Shelter Mutual’s argument that caselaw creates a cap is erroneous. Shelter Mutual also argued that the policies’ language required the trial court to set off part of the payment to compensate for a payment by the negligent driver’s insurance company. The trial court ruled against the insurer on this, finding that the language of the policy was ambiguous as to what constitutes “damages.” Missouri law construes ambiguity in insurance contracts against the insurer, the court noted, and the victims’ “damages” were in any case well over the $200,000 limit of the stacked policies. Thus, the appeal was denied.
As a Missouri auto accident lawyer, I applaud the appeals court’s decision. Although I would have liked to understand the details of the case, it’s clear enough that Shelter Mutual was trying hard to avoid paying the uninsured motorist claim, even in the face of two different appellate decisions requiring it to pay. The court mentions offhand that the Adams family’s damages were well in excess of the $200,000 they will (hopefully) receive under the stacked policies, and presumably also the payment that the at-fault driver’s insurance company made. This likely means they suffered serious injuries and genuinely need that money to pay medical costs or replace lost income. It’s not unusual for people who suffered a serious car wreck to find themselves struggling financially as a result, with high medical bills rolling in and disabilities keeping them out of work. That’s often why accident victims seek out a southern Illinois car accident attorney, to help them pass the costs on to the negligent person who caused them.
If someone in your family suffered serious injuries through no fault of your own in a car crash, Carey, Danis & Lowe may be able to help. For a free, confidential case evaluation, send us a message through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
Similar blog posts:
Missouri Court of Appeals Reverses Uninsured Motorist Decision in Fatal Auto Accident – Lero v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.
Ohio Supreme Court Rules Accident Victims Must Sue Insurers Before Ensuring Coverage Is Needed – Barbee v. Nationwide
Eighth Circuit Upholds Voiding of Insurance Provision Limiting Recovery as Contrary to Public Policy – Schubert v. Auto Owners Ins. Co.