Recently we successfully settled a case where the uninsured motorist carrier originally denied an uninsured motorist claim relating to a car wreck. The facts of the case were that an 18 year old was driving his mother’s vehicle and was hit by a driver that then ran from the scene. Our client suffered injuries requiring several months of treatment. Our 18 year old client was living with his parents at the time of the wreck. His parents’ vehicle had an insurance policy that included uninsured motorist coverage. The insurance company wrote our client’s mother a letter stating that they were denying the son’s claim because he was not listed on the uninsured motorist policy as a driver at the time of the loss.
Many people do not understand how uninsured motorist coverage works. If you have been in a car accident in Mississippi and the at fault driver was either uninsured, underinsured, or ran from the scene, you are likely entitled to compensation through your uninsured motorist policy if you have one. One important class of insureds within uninsured motorist coverage are relatives of the named insured that live with the name insured. The industry term for such a person is a “resident relative.”
In the above mentioned case, our firm wrote the insurance carrier and threatened to file a lawsuit against the insurance company for bad faith denial of an insurance claim in addition to the personal injury damages. Miss. Code Ann. §83-11-103(b) includes in its definition of insured in uninsured motorist claims, “the named insured, and while resident of the same household, the spouse of any such insured and the relatives of either.” The driver in this case was the insured’s son and was a resident of her household at the time of the incident. Further, the insurer cannot avoid coverage by having a policy at odds with the statute. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co. v. Davis, 613 So.2d 1179 (Miss. 1992).
Additionally, in 1992 the Supreme Court of Mississippi ruled that, “This Court has consistently viewed any attempts by insurance companies to contract away the protections afforded to injured insureds by the Uninsured Motorists Act as invalid. The humanitarian purposes of the statute have been furthered by decisions made from the perspective of the injured insured, enabling the same recovery which would have been possible had the injury been caused by a financially responsible motorist.” Atlanta Cas. Co. v. Payne, 603 So.2d 343 (Miss. 1992). Further, multiple federal courts in Mississippi have found that clauses in an insurance policy that excluded all unnamed drivers conflicted with both §83-11-103(b) and §83-11-101. Godwin v. U.S., 2016 WL 6127405 (S.D. Miss. 2016); Owen v. Universal Underwriters Ins. Co., 252 F. Supp. 2d 324, 327 (S.D. Miss. 2003).
Ultimately, the insurance carrier for our client’s mother capitulated and tendered much more than the standard amount for such cases as they were afraid of the bad faith implications should the case proceed to a jury.