Florida Supreme Court Answers Two Certified Questions Over Uninsured Motorist Benefits

In Travelers Commercial Insurance Co. v. Harrington, a woman was seriously hurt in a one-car accident while riding as a passenger in her father’s car. The man driving the automobile was not related to the woman, but he was driving the vehicle with her father’s permission. At the time of the single-car crash, the woman and both of her parents carried liability and non-stacked uninsured motorist (“UM”) coverage on three vehicles, including the one involved in the accident. The driver also carried liability insurance with a different automobile insurance company.

Following the single-vehicle collision, the driver’s liability insurer paid the woman the policy limits of $50,000 for her harm. In addition, the woman’s own insurance company paid her the $100,000 liability limit under the terms of the policy. Since the woman incurred medical expenses that exceeded this amount, she also sought to recover UM benefits from her insurer. The company stated the vehicle was not uninsured under the terms of the auto insurance policy and denied her claim. According to the company, the policy excluded a family car or truck from the definition of an uninsured or underinsured vehicle.

When the woman’s mother purchased the automobile insurance policy, she voluntarily elected to pay for less expensive non-stacking UM coverage. Despite this, the woman filed a lawsuit against her insurer seeking $300,000 in stacked UM benefits. A trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the woman because it found that the family vehicle exclusion included in the policy conflicted with Section 627.727(3) of the Florida Statutes. The trial court also stated the non-stacked UM coverage election was not applicable to the woman, since she did not personally sign the election form.

On appeal, Florida’s First District affirmed the trial court’s decision and certified two questions to the Florida Supreme Court. First, the state’s high court was asked to consider whether the family vehicle exclusion in the policy conflicted with Section 627.727(3) of the Florida Statutes. In addition, the First District asked the Florida Supreme Court to weigh in on whether a non-stacking UM waiver signed by an auto insurance purchaser applies to all individuals insured under the policy.

According to the court, the family vehicle exception at issue in the personal injury case did not conflict with Florida’s UM statute. The Supreme Court stated the law allows the term “uninsured vehicle” to be defined within a Florida liability insurance policy. The law also allows other terms and conditions that might have an effect on insurance coverage to be included in a vehicle policy as long as they are clear and do not conflict with the purpose of the UM statute. The court said to allow the woman to treat the vehicle as both insured and uninsured under the policy would go against “a long line of well-established precedent.” The Florida Supreme Court also held that the family vehicle exclusion did not conflict with the terms of the statute because the auto insurance policy did not include an exclusion for non-family members.

Next, the Florida court held that, although stacking of UM benefits is normally presumed in Florida, Section 627.727(9) of the Florida Statutes allows an auto insurance purchaser to expressly elect non-stackable UM coverage in exchange for a lower premium. The court found that the policy at issue clearly stated the election applied to all individuals insured under the policy and that the cost of UM coverage in Florida is generally calculated based on the policy as a whole rather than by individual. Additionally, the Supreme Court said to allow an insured person to seek stacked UM benefits simply because he or she did not personally sign a non-stacking election would allow the person to recover benefits he or she did not pay for.

After answering both questions certified to the high court, the Supreme Court of Florida quashed the Court of Appeals’ decision.

If you were hurt in a Miami car accident, you need a skilled lawyer on your side to help you protect your rights. To discuss your personal injury case with an experienced motor vehicle collision attorney, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. through our website or give us a call today at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Travelers Commercial Insurance Co. v. Harrington, Fla: Supreme Court 2014

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