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|Court||Circuit Court of Clay County, Missouri|
This is a complicated case involving two little known insurance coverage principles - setoffs and stacking on underinsurance coverage.
Vernie Long died in a car accident. The defendant was Lucas Dray, a young man ultimately convicted of man slaughter. Dray only had $50,000 in insurance coverage. The Long family then turned to their own insurance carrier, Shelter, for underinsured motorist coverage.
Shelter Insurance Company took premiums on eight separate policies which included underinsurance motorist coverage, including $100,000 in underinsurance motorist coverage on the truck being driven by Vernie Long.
Shelter sought to take a setoff for the $50,000 paid by Dray and then only pay $50,000 under its $100,000 underinsurance policy. A Missouri Supreme Court opinion named Jones v. Mid Century Insurance called into question whether insurance companies were entitled to this set off. Judge Gabbert ruled that they were not entitled to the set off in this case and ordered Shelter to pay its full $100,000.
The second underinsurance principle invoked in this case was stacking. Stacking refers to the ability to take multiple coverages and add up the total amount on the policies. In this case, the other seven Shelter policies listing Vernie Long as an insured each had $50,000 in underinsurance coverage. Both the Long Family and Shelter moved for summary judgment on whether it was permissible to stack these other policies. The Court made the following summary judgement ruling:
After comparing the language from the Shelter insurance policy issued to the plaintiff with the case law of Farm Bureau v. Barker, 150 S.W.3d 103 (Mo. App. W.D. 2004), Niswonger v. Farm Bureau Town & Country, 992 S.W.2d 308, 314 (Mo. App. E.D. 1999), Chamness v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 226 S.W.3d 199 (E.D. Mo. 2007) and American Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ragsdale, 213 S.W.3d 51 (Mo. App. W.D. 2006), this Court finds that the policy language, as argued by plaintiff, is ambiguous. The language is to be construed against Shelter and stacking of underinsurance is permissible. Additionally, this Court finds that the Shelter policy intertwined mandated coverages (such as uninsured motorist) with non-mandated coverages (such as underinsured motorist) by “lumping the two together and charging a single premium for both.” See Niswonger, 992 S.W.2d at 320. As such, Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment against Shelter on Stacking of Underinsured Motorist is granted and Defendant Shelter’s Motion for Summary Judgment is denied.
The case eventually made its way to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District where the judgment of the trial court was confirmed. The case set precedent in Missouri on the issues of "set-offs" and "stacking."
Read the full article on: Current Issues in Underinsured and Uninsured Insurance Coverage in Missouri
Past results afford no guarantee of future results and every case is different and must be judged on its own merits.