In Tibbetts v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., a Florida woman sought uninsured motorist (“UM”) benefits from her parents’ automobile insurer following a September 2014 traffic wreck. At the time of the collision, the woman was living with her parents and riding as a passenger in one of the vehicles insured under the policy. The insurance policy provided $100,000 in both bodily injury and UM benefits. Although the driver of the vehicle was not a named insured, nor did he have permission to be operating the vehicle, the woman was a “resident relative” under the policy terms. Additionally, the driver did not possess motor vehicle insurance at the time of the incident.
Following the car accident, the insurer denied the woman’s request for UM benefits. In response to the insurance company’s denial of benefits, the woman filed a lawsuit against the company in the Middle District of Florida in Tampa. According to the woman, the insurer breached the terms of the insurance policy by refusing to pay her UM benefits.
The policy language stated the insurer would pay UM benefits for bodily injury sustained by an insured who suffered harm in a collision involving the driver of an uninsured automobile. The accident policy also defined an uninsured vehicle as one that is not insured for bodily injury at the time of a collision. Despite this, the insurance policy stated a resident relative was entitled to recover UM benefits for a bodily injury sustained while a covered vehicle was being driven by someone other than the insured or resident relative. Additionally, the policy terms said a car that was available for a resident relative’s regular use was not uninsured.
Although the parties disputed the meaning of the policy terms, each filed a motion for summary judgment with the Florida court. Generally, a motion for summary judgment asks a court to rule that no material facts are in dispute and that one party to a lawsuit is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
First, the Tampa court stated the dispute it was tasked with resolving was whether the vehicle the woman was riding in when the traffic wreck occurred constituted an uninsured automobile under the policy terms. The insurer argued the car was not uninsured because it was available to the woman for her regular use. The woman countered that the automobile was uninsured, since it was being driven by someone other than herself or her parents.
Next, the court said the argument put forth by the woman was consistent with Section 627.727(3)(c) of the Florida Statutes. Under the law, an uninsured motor vehicle includes an insured automobile if the policy terms exclude liability coverage for drivers who are not family members, and a relative of the named insured suffers bodily harm in a collision involving such an uninsured driver.
Since the automobile policy exceptions conflicted, the insurer drafted the terms of the policy, and the insurance company could not offer an explanation regarding how the conflicting terms could be read in harmony, the Middle District of Florida held that it would construe the policy terms liberally in favor of UM coverage. As a result, the court granted the woman’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of UM benefits.
If you were hurt in a South Florida car accident, you are advised to contact a caring personal injury attorney who can advocate on your behalf. To discuss your rights with a skilled Miami car accident lawyer soon, call the hardworking advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.
Tibbetts v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., Dist. Court, MD Florida 2015
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