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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