Florida Court Grants Summary Judgment for Plaintiff in Uninsured Motorist Benefits Dispute

In Tibbetts v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., a Florida resident made a claim for uninsured motorist (UM) benefits on her parents’ car insurance policy after she was involved in a car collision in September 2014. Around that same time, the woman was residing with her parents and occupied one of the vehicles involved in the crash as a passenger. Her parent’s insurance coverage provided a $100,000 policy for both UM benefits and bodily injury.

The driver of the vehicle in which the woman was riding was not a named individual on the insurance policy. She also did not have permission to operate the vehicle at the time of the accident. According to the evidence at the trial, the driver was deemed a “resident relative” under the insurance policy’s provisions. The resident relative driver did not have auto insurance at the time of the accident.

After the collision, the insurance company denied the injured passenger’s demand for UM benefits, and the woman filed a lawsuit in Florida’s Middle District Court. The complaint contended that the insurance company breached the contract terms of its insurance policy in refusing to provide UM benefits.

The policy provided that the insurance company would make payments for UM benefits in the event of a bodily injury incurred by an insured individual who was harmed in an accident with an uninsured driver. It also stated that an uninsured vehicle included any vehicle that does not have coverage for bodily injury at the time of the crash. The policy terms provided that the regular use of the vehicle by a resident relative was not encompassed within the policy’s coverage provisions. Finally, the policy provided that a resident relative could receive UM benefits for bodily injuries suffered in a crash involving a covered vehicle that was being operated by an individual other than a named insured or a resident relative.

Unsurprisingly, the parties contested the meaning and application of these terms and filed respective motions for summary judgment. According to the court, the issue involved determining whether the car in which the injured woman was a passenger constituted an uninsured vehicle pursuant to the terms of the policy. The woman claimed that the car was uninsured because it was being operated by someone other than a named insured at the time of the crash, while the insurance company claimed that the car was not insured because it was available to the resident relative for regular use.

The court ultimately agreed with the injured woman, relying on Florida Statutes Section 627.727(3)(c), which provides that an uninsured vehicle includes an insured vehicle if the terms of the policy exclude coverage for non-family drivers, and a family member of the insured party is injured in a crash involving an uninsured driver. Since the insurance company drafted the conflicting terms of the insurance policy, and the company could not present a solution for harmonizing the conflicting terms, the court granted the woman’s motion for summary judgment on her UM benefits claim.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our car accident lawyers have helped many victims bring a claim and recover the compensation that they deserve, including residents of Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. One of the most daunting, stressful, and protracted portions of a car accident case is negotiating with an insurance company. We know what it takes to go up against big insurance businesses and ensure that our clients’ rights are asserted aggressively at each stage of the case. Call us at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online to set up your free consultation.

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