Motorcyclist Awarded Benefits from Underinsured Motorist Coverage by Court

A motorcyclist who suffered severe injuries in a traffic collision may collect underinsured motorist benefits under several policies, the Missouri Supreme Court’s ruled in Manner v. Schiermeier, No. SC92408, slip op. (Mo., Jan. 8, 2013). The court rejected the argument of the two defendant insurers that exclusions for “owned vehicles” precluded coverage of the plaintiff’s vehicle. It found that neither insurer expressly defined “owned” in its policies, and that they did not meet their burden of proof regarding the exclusions. The court also allowed “stacking” of the policies, which could entitle the plaintiff to the maximum coverage amount under each policy.

Nathaniel Manner was seriously injured in an accident with Nicholas Schiermeier in September 2004. Schiermeier’s vehicle struck Manner’s Yamaha motorcycle while he was riding it. After Manner filed suit, Schiermeier’s insurer paid him $100,000, the maximum coverage amount. The insurer agreed with Manner that his total damages equaled $1.5 million, leaving Manner with a substantial amount of unpaid damages. Manner therefore filed claims on four policies that named him as a beneficiary, each of which had $100,000 in underinsured motorist coverage. Manner had purchased three policies from American Family Mutual Insurance Company for the Yamaha motorcycle and two Ford pickup trucks. He also made a claim as an additional insured on his father’s policy from American Standard Insurance Company for a Suzuki motorcycle.

Manner added the insurance companies to his lawsuit as defendants after they denied coverage, claiming a total of $400,000. In a motion for summary judgment, the insurers argued that Manner was excluded from coverage on the the pickup truck and Suzuki motorcycle policies. Each policy had an owned-vehicle exclusion that excluded bodily injury claims involving a vehicle that the insured, or anyone in the insured’s household, owns, and that is not directly covered by the policy. The owned-vehicle exclusions applied to the Yamaha, the insurers claimed, because Manner owned it and it was not insured under any of the three policies. The trial court granted summary judgment for the defendants, and Manner appealed.

The state Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment order and remanded the case to the trial court. It noted that caselaw made it the insurer’s the burden to prove the applicability of a coverage exclusion, and that any ambiguities in the language of an exclusion are to be construed against the insurer. The policies, the court found, did not provide a clear definition of “owned,” and the defendants did not meet the burden of proof as to Manner’s ownership of the Yamaha. Manner, the court found, had possession and control of the motorcycle, but his uncle still held title. Manner was making payments to his uncle at the time the accident occurred. The court further found that “other insurance” provisions allowed stacking of the policies.

At Parr Richey Frandsen Patterson Kruse, we help the victims of Indiana motorcycle accidents and their families obtain compensation for their damages. Contact us today online or at (888) 532-7766 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with one of our lawyers.

More Blog Posts:
Indiana Court of Appeals Determined Pendleton, Indiana Motorist Owed a Duty of Care to Motorcyclist After Waiving Motorcyclist Through Intersection Indicating it was Clear, Indiana Injury Lawyer Blog, February 29, 2012

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