As a Missouri auto accident attorney, I know uninsured motorist benefits are some of the hardest to get from an insurance company, even if the facts are clearly on the driver’s side. Insurance companies like collecting premiums for uninsured motorist claims, but after an accident, they will often use a hit-and-run or other facts that are hard to verify as an excuse to deny coverage. That was the claim made by Larry Squires in Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co. v. Squires, a decision by the Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Squires was injured after swerving to avoid a box left in the road; the parties stipulated that an unidentified vehicle dropped the box. Allstate received a declaratory judgment in Pennsylvania state court that it did not owe Squires a settlement. The Third Circuit reversed, finding that direct contact with the uninsured vehicle was not necessary under the policy.
Squires put in a claim for uninsured motorist benefits after his accident. The relevant part of the disputed policy says Squires may recover for bodily injury “aris[ng] out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an uninsured auto.” Pennsylvania state law defines an uninsured vehicle to include “an unidentified vehicle that causes an accident resulting in injury,” provided that the victim report it to authorities and his or her insurance company. Allstate filed for a declaratory judgment that it did not owe benefits under the policy; Squires filed counterclaims for insurance bad faith and breach of contract. The trial court granted judgment on the pleadings to Allstate and dismissed the claims by Squires, finding that the sole issue was whether the box-related accident arose out of the “ownership, maintenance or use” of an automobile. It did not, the court said, and found that the policy only applied to accidents caused directly by a vehicle.
Squires appealed, arguing that contact with a vehicle was not necessary under the language at issue. The Third U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ultimately agreed. Seeking to understand what the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would do, it examined Pennsylvania caselaw and concluded that under the “arising out of” language in his policy, Squires can avoid summary judgment by alleging that the unidentified vehicle’s use caused his injuries. The court cautioned that more may be needed to ultimately make a recovery. It also rejected a case heavily relied on by the district court, in which uninsured motorist benefits were denied to a boy who suffered injures as he bicycled, when another boy intentionally threw hay from the back of a truck. In that case, the injury was caused by the hay-throwing boy, the court said, but in this one, the falling box was a direct consequence of the use of the unknown vehicle to transport cargo. The appeals court noted that Pennsylvania’s auto insurance statute is to be construed liberally and in favor of the insured in close cases. Thus, it reversed and remanded the case.
This ruling is good news for Squires and other Pennsylvania drivers. This decision clears the hurdle of whether the policy language applies to his case. Though the appeals court correctly noted that Squires must still prove his breach of contract and bad faith claims, he can now say his claim for insurance is valid. Thus, he may be able to collect the settlement and move on without worrying about proving the bad faith and breach of contract claims. It’s common, in my experience as a southern Illinois car accident lawyer, for insurers to narrow in on specific policy language as a reason to deny coverage. That’s why it’s important for accident victims to come to a St. Louis car crash attorney like me as soon as possible after realizing they’re not being dealt with fairly. Though negotiations and, when necessary, litigation, we can sometimes reach a fair settlement without the hassle of a trial.
If you were seriously hurt in a Missouri or southern Illinois car crash through no fault of your own, contact Carey, Danis & Lowe today. You can send us a message through our website or call 1-877-678-3400 toll-free.
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