2-year limit on uninsured motorist claim not against public policy, COA rules

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The Court of Appeals of Indiana has affirmed the grant of summary judgment to an insurance carrier that denied a claim for uninsured motorist coverage, finding the claim was untimely and the two-year statute of limitations was not against public policy.

The case of Paula Napier v. American Family Mutual Insurance Company, S.I., 21A-PL-980, began with Paula Napier’s vehicle accidents in August 2014 and January 2015 involving an unnamed operator of an uninsured vehicle. More than four years later, Napier filed a complaint against her insurer, American Family Mutual Insurance Company, for uninsured motorist benefits.

American Family moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Napier’s claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations in Indiana Code § 34-11-2-4(a). Napier, however, filed a cross-motion alleging the applicable statute of limitations was either six years under IC. 34-11-2-9 or 10 years under 34-11-2-11.

The Scott Superior Court agreed with American Family and entered judgment for the insurer. The appellate court affirmed that ruling on Monday, pointing to a provision of the insurance policy holding that, “We may not be sued under the Uninsured Motorist coverage on any claim that is barred by the tort statute of limitations.”

“Napier contends that the phrase ‘tort statute of limitations’ in the Provision is ambiguous and could reference many different statutes of limitation involving torts. However, the Provision is specifically applicable to ‘the Uninsured Motorist coverage … ,’” Judge Margret Robb wrote for the court. “And Napier’s uninsured motorist coverage only includes bodily injury and property damage, and only when Napier is ‘legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle[.]’ Therefore, the statute of limitations applicable to a case against the uninsured drivers for Napier’s damages from bodily injury or property damage is the ‘tort statute of limitation’ applicable to a suit against American for uninsured coverage.”

That statute, Robb wrote, is “unambiguously” I.C. 34-11-2-4(a), which includes a two-year statute of limitations. Thus, because the accidents at issue happened in 2014 and 2015 but Napier did not file suit until 2019, her claim was untimely.

The COA likewise rejected Napier’s public policy claim. The court pointed to Scalf v. Globe Am. Cas. Co., 442 N.E.2d 8 (Ind. Ct. App. 1982), trans. denied, which held that “to provide [the insured] with the same financial protection he would have had if he were injured by an insured motorist, he must be able to pursue his remedy against his insurance carrier for the same time period he would be able to pursue his claim against an insured tortfeasor’s insurance carrier.”

“Here, the Provision affords Napier the same amount of time to bring an uninsured motorist coverage claim as Napier had to bring a claim against an insured tortfeasor,” Robb wrote. “… Therefore, we conclude the limitation is not contrary to public policy.”

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