Per Person Bodily Injury Limit in Wrongful Death Cases

Wrongful Death

In the case of Auto Club Insurance Company of Florida v. Estate of Normal Lewis and Billie Jarrard, Case Number 5D18-3439 (December 13, 2019), Florida’s Fifth DCA held that the per person bodily injury liability limit of a Florida automobile policy only applied to the deceased and did not include the surviving family members. In other words, each survivor’s derivative claim is not a separate bodily injury claim and each survivor cannot claim the per person coverage limit. Instead, there is one applicable bodily injury liability limit in a wrongful death case for the decedent.

Facts and Appeal

Auto Club Insurance of Florida (AAA) appealed a declaratory judgment finding that the per person bodily injury liability limits on an automobile insurance policy apply to each family with a claim under a wrongful death claim.

This case arose out of a car accident between Jarrard and Lewis. Lewis died in that collision. The policy limits for Jarrard were $100,000 per person and $300,000 per occurrence. Lewis’s estate successfully argued to the trial court that the per person limit applied to Lewis’s parents for their consortium claims. AAA appealed.

The Fifth DCA reversed citing Amsterdam Casualty Company v. Hart, 16 So. 2d 118 (Fla. 1943).

How to Apply Bodily Injury Limits is a Common Question

For lawyers, this was an easy case. However, I frequently get asked, “how does the per person and per accident or occurrence limit on an insurance policy work?” For those who do not regularly deal with insurance companies, seeing numbers like 10/20, 25/50, 50/100, and 100/300 on an insurance disclosure can be confusing, especially in a wrongful death case such as this one where there is a claim for the decedent and the surviving family members.

In a nutshell, the first number is always the per person limit and applies to each person who actually suffers an injury as a result of an accident. The second number, or per accident limit or per occurrence limit, is the maximum payout that the insurance company will make regardless of the number of people injured as a result of an accident.

In this particular case, Lewis (through his estate) had a claim for $100,000, which was the per person policy limit for bodily injury liability. That limit applies not only to any claims that his estate can make but also any claims that his survivors can make. As such, the per person limit is the same regardless of the number of survivors that he has.

As for Lewis’s parents, they must share in that $100,000 per person bodily injury liability limit unless they were physically injured themselves in the accident. The parents might also be able to claim the per person policy limit if an exception to Florida’s impact rule applies to where they can claim emotional damages if they were either witnessed the accident or came to the scene shortly thereafter and had physical manifestions of emotional injuries (this claim is referred to as negligent infliction of emotional distress).

Ask A Lakeland Wrongful Death Lawyer

If you or someone you know has questions about how wrongful death claims work under Florida law, you should contact Russo Law. We offer a free consultation to determine the merits of your case and answer any questions that you may have about wrongful death claims in Florida. Call today to schedule your free consultation with a Lakeland wrongful death attorney.

December 13, 2019