Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal recently issued a ruling in favor of an estate seeking coverage from an auto insurer. A man suffered a fatal accident while riding his motorcycle, and the deceased’s estate sought uninsured motorist coverage benefits from his collector vehicle insurance policy. This policy provided $300,000 worth of coverage for stacked uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for $416 per year. The insurer denied the claim, and the estate filed suit. The insurer argued it was not required to provide uninsured coverage because the deceased was not in the vehicle at the time of this Florida motorcycle accident. The insurer highlighted several limitations and exclusions within the policy to support its argument.
Whenever an appellate court analyzes an insurance policy dispute, it first looks at the insurance policy to determine which sort of coverage was agreed between the parties. Case law for contracts has long established that courts must first look at the plain language. Auto insurance policies, however, are also governed by state statutes, which favor coverage in the presence of ambiguities or conflicting clauses. The policy in this case was designed to cover the collector vehicle and defined the insured as a policy-holder while occupying the covered vehicle. The policy additionally required the insured to own a principal means of transportation insured by a separate policy. Failing to do so would remove the coverage from the collector vehicle policy.
Both parties had moved for summary judgment in the lawsuit for UM benefits. The insurer looked at a prior decision in the Second District that held specialty insurance policies for antique cars are not required to provide UM coverage for accidents involving other vehicles. The insurer also pointed out the lower premium, which was calculated based on a more limited risk and only covered specific “collector” vehicles at that. The estate asserted the Second District came to the wrong conclusion, based on the conflict with Section 627.727 of the Florida Statutes (2015) and Florida Supreme Court precedent.
The trial court agreed with the estate’s observation of the conflict, but it ultimately concluded it was bound to follow the Second District Court of Appeal precedent because it was factually analogous to the case. (See State v. Washington, 114 So. 3d 182, 185 (Fla. 3d DCA 2012).) Final summary judgment was entered for the insurer, and the estate appealed.
Section 627.727 Florida Statutes (2015) allows insurers to place specific limitations on uninsured motorist coverage, but the insurer must first receive written consent on an approved form focusing on the specific limitation applicable to the UM coverage. In this case, both parties agreed there was no such form signed for this policy. The Florida Supreme Court previously determined that uninsured motorist coverage follows the named insureds and resident relatives of named insureds (also known as Class I insureds). If a bodily injury is suffered by the insured, coverage should be available regardless of whether they were pedestrians or in another vehicle. The court found that in the absence of the statutorily required notice to the insured on limitations of coverage, an insured is entitled to the UM coverage in her or his policy.
The Second District decision acknowledged public policy strongly favors coverage, but it concluded it does not extend to specialty policy coverage. The court found the legislature had not required broad insurance coverage from motorcycles or other specialty recreational vehicles. The court was also concerned about the unintended results of higher premiums and consumers rejecting UM coverage. The Fifth District in this appeal agreed with the concerns but felt those were to be addressed by the legislature. The appellate court reversed the summary judgment in favor of the insurance company and remanded the case to the trial court. A conflict was certified with the Second District opinion.
The Florida uninsured motorist accident attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can aggressively pursue all applicable benefits from auto insurance policies. If you’ve been in a serious motorcycle or auto accident, call our office today at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999.
More Blog Posts:
Florida District Appellate Court Reviews Future Medical Expenses in Multi-Car Accident Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 28, 2016
Federal Circuit Court of Appeal Declines to Find Equitable Tolling in Slip and Fall Case, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 21, 2016
Florida Court of Appeal Allows Injured Motorist to Pursue Additional PIP Payments to Medical Providers, Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, May 18, 2017