The Indiana Court of Appeals Thursday agreed with a couple that their auto insurance policy is ambiguous because the two-year contractual limitation provision conflicts with another provision requiring full compliance with the contract.
Darliss Wert was injured in an accident Jan. 16, 2009, that was caused by Barbara Offill’s negligent driving. Darliss and Gary Wert’s attorney informed their insurer, Meridian Security Insurance Co., in March 2010 that the couple had an underinsured-motorist claim because Offill only had $100,000 of liability insurance. The Werts accepted the $100,000 settlement from Offill’s insurance company Jan. 18, 2011, but that money would not be available to the Werts until early February 2011. Meridian offered to settle the Werts underinsured-motorist claim for $5,000 in December 2011. The Werts filed their complaint seeking the benefits Feb. 24, 2012, more than two years after the accident.
The trial court granted summary judgment for the insurer, which argued it was entitled to summary judgment because the claim was filed after the expiration of the contractual limitation period.
The insurance contract in this case states that no legal action will be permitted against the insurance company unless there has been “full compliance with the terms of this policy.” The restriction is amended by only allowing a lawsuit to be brought against the insurance company as long as it is brought within two years of the date of the accident.
The two-year restriction is in direct conflict with the endorsement amending the requirements of the underinsured-motorist coverage, the appellate judges found, because Meridian will not pay underinsured-motorist benefits to its policyholder until the claim has either been resolved or settled with the underinsured motorist.
“Meridian’s policy prohibits the Werts from filing any lawsuit against it for an underinsured-motorist claim until the limits of Offill’s liability coverage have been exhausted. At the same time, Meridian attempts to prevent the Werts from filing more than two years after the date of the accident, potentially requiring them to file a lawsuit before they are in full compliance with the policy,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote. “Unless a policyholder settles with an underinsured motorist within two years of the collision, these provisions are in direct conflict and therefore ambiguous.”
The case, Darliss Wert and Gary Wert v. Meridian Security Insurance Company, 15A01-1306-CT-252, is remanded for further proceedings.