As a Missouri auto accident attorney, I was interested to see a Missouri Supreme Court decision on insurance coverage for a child who was in the care of a daycare provider at the time he was injured. Charzetta Steele is the mother of the unnamed child, who was injured when the daycare van was rear-ended by an at-fault driver. In Steele v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., Steele argued that the daycare’s auto insurance provider, Shelter, should count her son as an insured under the daycare’s uninsured motorist policy. But the trial court found that as a passenger, the boy was not an insured under the policy, and didn’t fall under the ambit of the state uninsured motorist statute, so it granted summary judgment to shelter. The Missouri Supreme Court affirmed.
In 2009, an uninsured driver who was speeding hit the back of Bright Star Academy’s daycare van. The boy’s injuries were not noted except to say they were serious. Steele, his mother, eventually sued Shelter for coverage of those injuries, alleging that while he was not an insured under the policy, Missouri’s motor vehicle financial responsibility law and its uninsured motorist law required that uninsured motorist coverage be provided up to the statutory minimum of $25,000. Shelter moved for summary judgment, arguing that the boy was not covered because the policy defines an insured only as the vehicle’s owner, operator or “user,” defined as someone who exercises physical control or the right of control of the vehicle. The trial court granted summary judgment. After an opinion from the Court of Appeals, the Missouri Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
The high court first agreed with both parties that the insurance policy itself did not cover the boy because its definition of “insured” was limited to owners, operators or “users”—persons physically controlling the vehicle. But Steele argued that public policy should compel the court to expand the definition of “user” to include all vehicle passengers. She noted that it is against Missouri public policy to permit insurance policy provisions that dilute state-mandated insurance policies. But the court found that Missouri insurance statutes do not require insurance companies to count all passengers in vehicles as insureds. The liability insurance law requires policies to insure non-named parties against liability losses “for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use” of the insured vehicle. And caselaw says passengers are only liable when they have a realistic right to control the vehicle. Thus, the child passenger was clearly not covered, the high court concluded.
As a St. Louis car crash lawyer, I am disappointed by this decision. I agree with Steele that failure to extend UM coverage to passengers is bad public policy. Consider Steele’s situation: through no fault of hers, her son’s or the daycare provider’s, her son has sustained serious injuries. No insurance company is available because of the at-fault driver’s irresponsible choice to not carry insurance, and the uninsured motorist coverage—which people buy in case of this exact situation—is being denied. Even if this is legal under Missouri law, it’s clearly not a good idea for Missouri accident victims, or the taxpayers who will ultimately pay the medical bills that insurance won’t cover. As a southern Illinois motor vehicle accident attorney, I believe we can and should do better.
If you were in an accident caused by someone else’s bad decisions and you’d like to discuss your rights and your legal options, call Carey, Danis & Lowe today for a free consultation. You can reach us through our website or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400.
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