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Justices order further proceedings in underinsured motorist coverage case

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Because issues of material fact remain regarding the applicable level of underinsured motorist coverage provided by a policy on a semi-tractor trailer, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed summary judgment for the insurance company.

Allen County resident Derek Asklar was driving a semi on behalf of Werner Transportation Services Inc., a Georgia company, when he was injured in West Virginia when his truck was hit by another semi-truck. Werner leased Asklar’s truck from a South Bend company and insured it under a policy from Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Co.  The insurer provided $5 million liability coverage for his truck, but claimed the policy only included $75,000 in underinsured motorist coverage.

The trial court applied Georgia law, which allows an insured to choose to purchase this type of coverage in a lower amount than the liability policy limit. The trial court found the procurement and endorsement of the policy itself was sufficient evidence that Werner Transportation, through its president, John Werner, made that affirmative choice. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Empire.

The justices agreed with the Indiana Court of Appeals that Indiana law does apply because any vehicle registered and principally garaged in Indiana, as was Asklar’s rig, must comply with requirements under I.C. 27-7-5-2. But the justices disagreed with the lower appeals court’s decision to affirm the trial court.

Empire designated four documents that purportedly show Werner’s intent, as to both uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage, to reject the default $5 million coverage limit and instead purchase coverage only in the amount of $75,000.  

“Although both the trial court and our Court of Appeals found these rejections were sufficient as a matter of law to demonstrate Werner waived the higher liability limit for both uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance, we cannot agree,” Justice Mark Massa wrote. “None of the forms identify the policy by number, and none mention ‘underinsured’ coverage, instead referring only to the liability limit of the ‘uninsured’ coverage. On the other hand, there is policy language that could be read to indicate the waivers use the term ‘uninsured’ to include both types of coverage. … In light of these conflicting facts, we conclude the issue of the waivers’ validity is unsuitable for summary judgment and best left to the fact-finder.”

The case is Derek Asklar and Pauline Asklar v. David Gilb, Paul Garrett Smith d/b/a P.H. One Trucking, Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co. d/b/a Zurich Northland Insurance Co., Travelers Indemnity Co. of America, 02S03-1305-CT-332.
 

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