As a Missouri car accident attorney, I was interested to read a federal appeals court decision dismissing an insurance coverage dispute — at least for now. In Zbegner v. Allied Property & Casualty Insurance Co., the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Zbegner may not pursue his lawsuit for underinsured motorist benefits yet because it isn’t yet clear how much he could recover from the other driver’s insurance company. Zbegner was injured in a crash he says was caused by Jesse Hanson, who was not well enough insured to cover all of Zbegner’s claims. Hanson’s insurer has paid a property damage settlement and made an offer for Zbegner’s injuries, but the injury claim is not resolved. For that reason, the Tenth said Zbegner may not yet pursue a lawsuit.
Zbegner’s suit says he suffered severe injuries with damages of more than $150,000. He accepted a $350 property damage payment from Hanson’s insurer, Allstate, but has not accepted an offer of $2,145 to settle his injury claim. He then turned to his own insurer, Allied, to request the policy limits of his underinsured motorist policy. Allied declined and Zbegner sued for breach of contract, breach of covenant of good faith and violations of Colorado law. Allied moved to dismiss, arguing that the case was not yet ripe because it couldn’t know what it might owe Zbegner until he resolved his claim with Allstate. The federal district court agreed, construing Colorado law on ripeness and concluding that Zbegner suffers no undue hardship from waiting. It dismissed his claim without prejudice and he appealed.
The Tenth Circuit agreed that Zbegner’s claim is not yet ripe. Under Colorado law, which is controlling, it said the amount due under a UIM policy cannot be known until the underlying claim against the at-fault party is resolved. Zbegner argued that the language of his policy with Allied is distinct from the language in the case at issue, but the Tenth Circuit said the language of the policy was irrelevant — the ruling did not rely solely on the policy language. State law provides two different ways to calculate an insurer’s maximum liability under an underinsured (or uninsured) motorist policy, one of which depends on the payout by other parties. Allied further argued that its policy language requires waiting to see what other recoveries are, and the Tenth Circuit agreed, noting that many state courts have found this. Thus, the Tenth upheld the district court’s dismissal without prejudice.
As a St. Louis auto accident lawyer, I suspect Zbegner will be back in court. The decision doesn’t explain why he never settled with Allstate, but if he can document his claim for $150,000 in damages — which is well over the $2,145 settlement Allstate offered him — the chances are good that he won’t be able to collect the entire amount from the underinsured Hanson. In fact, the Tenth Circuit noted that Hanson’s policy limit is just $25,000, so it is inevitable that Zbegner will not be able to collect $150,000 — the question is merely whether or how much he will be able to recover from Allstate. In general, our southern Illinois car crash attorneys pursue payment from as many sources as necessary when our clients are seriously injured. This often starts with the at-fault driver, but as this case shows, action against your own insurer is sometimes necessary as well.
Carey, Danis & Lowe represents people across Missouri and southern Illinois who have been seriously injured or lost a loved one because of someone else’s bad decisions behind the wheel. If you’d like to tell us your story and discuss your legal options, call us today for a free consultation at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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