UM Motorcycle Exclusion Held To Be Ambiguous

Motorcycle Accidents

In the case of Jesse Anthony Eckols v. 21st Century Centennial Insurance Company, Case Number 5D17-2904 (Fla. 5th DCA December 7, 2018), Florida’s Fifth DCA held that the UIM exclusion while riding a motorcycle in the plaintiff’s automobile policy was ambiguous and, therefore, unenforceable.

Language In Dispute In The Case

21st Century issued an automobile policy covering three vehicle and three family members.  The coverage limits were $50,000 per person/$100,000 per accident for UM coverage.  The injured plaintiff was a family member but was not one of the three named insureds on the policy.

The plaintiff sought UM coverage after being struck by an uninsured motorist while on a motorcycle that he owned (but was not on the policy).  The plaintiff was entitled to seek coverage as a “family member” (defined as a person related by blood, marriage, and who is a resident of the named insured’s household).

21st Century denied coverage for the plaintiff stating that coverage was excluded because the plaintiff was injured while operating a vehicle that was not covered by the policy.

The exclusion provided:

A.  We do not provide Uninsured Motorist Coverage for bodily injury sustained:

1.  By an insured while occupying any motor vehicle owned by that insured which is not insured for this coverage under this policy.  This includes a trailer of any type used with that vehicle.

The plaintiff acknowledged that at first glance the exclusion appears to bar his claim, however, the definitions of the boldfaced and italicized words must be given the meanings that were defined in the policy rather than common meanings.

In this instance, the word “owned” means to “hold legal title to the ‘auto’…”  Further, “auto” was defined in the policy as a “four wheel private passenger car, van, pickup, or jeep type automobile…”

Therefore, you can see where 21st Century likely intended to exclude any vehicles not on the policy when excluding UM coverage.  However, the exclusion failed to have a term that included motorcycles in the definitions of words used.

Rules Of Construction In Insurance Policies

The case opinion set out the following rules (well established by other cases) for interpreting insurance policies:

  • courts generally construe insurance policies according to “plain language”
  • if the relevant policy language is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation regarding coverage, then the insurance policy provision is considered ambiguous
  • Ambiguous policy provisions are to be strictly construed against the insurance company and liberally toward the insured
  • Ambiguous clauses involving exclusions from coverage are construed “even more strictly” against insurance companies than clauses that involve coverage

Result Under The Rules Of Construction

Without a doubt, the attorneys for the plaintiff in this case carefully read the policy in this case and considered the possibility that the could be wrong before filing this lawsuit.  Things like this are a reality check plaintiff’s attorneys because you have to trust your own intuition in giving your client advice on what to do under the circumstances.

Be that as it may, when you encounter policy language that operates to the benefit of the plaintiff despite the likely intended meaning from the insurance company, the rules of construction apply and you have to file your lawsuit with the courage that you could lose in the trial court but you may need to rely on an appeal.

That appears to be exactly what happened in this case.  Going forward, the plaintiff will likely set a trial date and conduct a trial to establish the extent of damages.  After that, the plaintiff will either amend to include a bad faith claim or the bad faith claim that was originally stayed will ripen.  Finally, the plaintiff, should he win, will be entitled to damages exceeding the policy limit.  The plaintiff also gets attorneys fees paid for under section 627.428, Fla. Stat. because coverage was denied.

Find Out If Your Case Has More Than Meets The Eye

To find out whether the exclusions on your automobile insurance policy apply to your accident while riding your motorcycle, contact a Lakeland, Florida motorcycle accident attorney today to schedule your free consultation.

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December 16, 2018