As a Missouri motor vehicle accident lawyer, I was interested to see a Missouri Supreme Court decision permitting an injured motorcyclist to recover from his own uninsured/underinsured motorist insurance. This type of insurance is very important but can be hard to collect on, because insurance companies are in the habit of fighting their insureds’ attempts to exercise their own contractual rights. In Manner v. Schiermeier et al, Nathaniel Manner suffered extensive injuries when he was hit while riding his motorcycle, by motorist Nicholas Schiermeier. Schiermeier’s insurance paid up to the policy limit of $100,000, but Manner had a stipulated $1.5 million in damages. Thus, Manner attempted to collect on two underinsured motorist policies from his own insurance, as well as two insurance policies taken out by his father, who had made him an additional insured. The trial court found that the policies exempted the motorcycle, but the Missouri Supreme Court reversed, saying contractual ambiguities are interpreted against the drafter.
Schiermeier’s fault is not disputed, and Manner has agreed with his insurer for the purposes of this lawsuit, that his damages are $1.5 million. Manner had three American Family insurance policies covering the motorcycle and his two trucks, and his father had him listed as an additional insured on his own American Standard insurance policy for a different motorcycle. The insurers denied coverage, arguing that Schiermeier’s vehicle was not “underinsured” because its insurance policy limit was not lower than Manner’s policy limit. They also claimed that accidents involving Manner’s motorcycle were excluded from the other vehicles’ policies by a clause that excludes coverage for accidents involving “a motor vehicle that is not insured under this policy if it is owned by you.” In his lawsuit, Manner argued that insurers didn’t prove that he owned the motorcycle—on which he was still making payments—or that he was a member of his father’s household. This would permit him to stack coverage, making his policy limit greater than Schiermeier’s. The trial court granted summary judgment to the insurers.
On appeal, however, the Missouri Supreme Court reversed. Missouri law puts the burden of proving ownership on the insurer. The record shows that Manner was still paying his uncle, the motorcycle’s previous owner, for the vehicle at the time of the accident, and in fact the title was still with the uncle; Manner told the police at the scene that his uncle owned it. An insurable interest in a vehicle is not the same as ownership, the high court said. The insurance policies at issue did not define “owned,” the court noted. Using an ordinary definition, it found the contract ambiguous at best, and because all ambiguities are construed against the drafter, found that the insurers did not meet their burden of proving that Manner did not own the motorcycle. The court next found that Manner could stack the four insurance policies in a way that permitted recovery for underinsured motorist coverage. Because the contract appeared to contradict itself, the court found that part of the contract ambiguous as well, as construed it against the drafter. The court further rejected an offset argument by the insurers, saying there was no notice of an offset requirement in their contracts. It thus reversed and remanded the case.
As a St. Louis auto accident attorney, I’m delighted to see a case denying insurance companies an opportunity to avoid providing the coverage that the injured motorist paid for. This is unfortunately common in cases involving motorcycle injuries, because a bad motorcycle accident can create very serious injuries. Indeed, while Manner’s injuries are not described, the fact that they were valued at $1.5 million—and the fact that the insurers do not question that valuation—suggests catastrophic, lifelong injuries. Insurance companies often try to avoid paying what they owe, particularly when the injuries are very expensive. This puts the injured people and their loved ones in a very bad position, scrambling to make ends meet while they fight for the coverage they ought to be entitled to. Our southern Illinois motorcycle accident lawyers fight for the rights of our clients to that coverage, as well as seeking compensation from the at-fault driver.
If you or someone you love suffered serious injuries in a car crash caused by someone else’s bad decisions, don’t wait to call Carey, Danis & Lowe for a free consultation. You can send us an email or call 1-877-678-3400 today.
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