ILNews

Court rules on underinsured motorists coverage

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today on when injured claimants in an automobile accident can seek to recover more money under a single Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist policy.

In Auto-Owners Insurance Co. v. David Eakle, et al., the court used previous cases Allstate Ins Co v. Sanders 644 N.E.2d 884, 887 (Ind. Ct. App. 1994) and Grange Ins. Co v. Graham 843 N.E.2d 597, 599 (Ind. Ct. App. 2006) to determine the trial court erred in denying Auto-Owners judgment on the pleadings and summary judgment and ruling that the Eakles receive summary judgment.

In 2003, David Eakle and his parents, Helen and Leon, were seriously injured in an automobile accident when Lavern Weddel failed to stop at a red light in Indianapolis. Weddel died as a result of the accident. The Eakles, along with David's wife, Melissa, filed a claim with Weddel's insurer, Indiana Insurance Co. and received the accident policy limit of $500,000. Helen received $245,000, Leon received $160,000; David received $90,000, and Melissa was awarded $5,000.

The Eakles' vehicle was insured through Auto-Owners, which provided uninsured and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage of $500,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. The Eakles filed a claim with Auto-Owners for coverage payments under their UIM endorsement of the policy, which Auto-Owners denied, saying Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured.

The Eakles then brought a lawsuit against Auto-Owners for breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment that they were entitled to the compensation under the UIM claims with their insurance policy. The trial court ruled in favor of the Eakles.

The Court of Appeals examines the core issue of the case - whether Weddel's vehicle was underinsured. Auto-Owners wants the court to compare the per accident limit of Weddel's bodily injury liability policy, which was $500,000, to the per accident limit of the Eakles' UIM policy, which is also $500,000. The Eakles argue the court should compare the per person limit of each Eakle's UIM coverage, which is $500,000, to the amount actually available for payment to each Eakle under the agreement with Weddel's insurer, which does not total $500,000 for each injured party.

The opinion, authored by Judge Darden with Judges Sharpnack and Robb concurring, finds that Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured, using Graham and Sanders as guides because those cases also involved multiple injured claimants seeking to recover under a single UIM policy.

Darden wrote, "The designated evidence demonstrates that the amount of $500,000 paid to the Eakles by tortfeasor-Weddel's insurance was not less than, but equivalent to the UIM limits available to the Eakles for a multiple person accident in the amount of $500,000.00 under their Auto-Owners policy."

The court found that Weddel's vehicle was not underinsured and that the trial court erred in denying Auto-Owners' motion for judgment on the pleadings and its alternative motion for summary judgment. The COA reversed the trial court's decision and remanded with instruction that the trial court grant summary judgment in favor of Auto-Owners.
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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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