Recently, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case requiring the court to interpret an insurance policy to determine if the policy provided uninsured motorist (UIM) protection to a man who was killed by an uninsured driver. Ultimately, the court concluded that the decedent’s employer’s insurance policy did not provide UIM coverage to the decedent and, thus, rejected the plaintiff’s claim.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff in this case was the estate of a man who was killed when he was struck by a driver who was high on methamphetamine while he was riding his personal lawnmower. The at-fault driver was not insured.
The estate of the decedent filed a UIM claim under the decedent’s employer’s insurance policy, which contained coverage for UIM benefits. Specifically, that clause stated that UIM benefits under the policy extended to “you or others we protect.” The estate argued that the term “others we protect” included the decedent.
The insurance company denied the estate’s claim, and the estate filed a lawsuit in hopes of compelling the insurance company to approve its claim. The insurance company’s position was that the term “others we protect” was specifically defined within the insurance contract, and that it was not subject to judicial interpretation.
The lower court determined that the decedent was included in the term “others we protect.” From there, the court found that there were no remaining material issues left in the case and granted judgment in favor of the estate. The insurance company appealed to the state’s supreme court.
The Court’s Decision
The court agreed with the insurance company and reversed the lower court’s ruling. The court explained that, as a preliminary matter, state law only allows for the judicial interpretation of contractual terms when they are ambiguous. In other words, under state law a court is unable to assign meaning to clearly defined words in a contract.
Here, the court explained that the lower court did exactly what it was prohibited from doing. The term “others we protect” was in bold-face type, indicating that it had a special definition. The definition of “others we protect,” located in a separate section immediately below the UIM endorsement, covered four types of individuals, none of which included the decedent. The estate was asking the court to apply its own interpretation of what “others we protect” meant. However, the court refused to do so, explaining that unambiguous terms were beyond the scope of judicial interpretation. Thus, the court technically did not get to discuss whether it believed that the decedent should have been covered under the policy; the fact that the term “others we protect” excluded him by definition precluded the court from engaging in that analysis.
Are You Dealing with a Difficult Insurance Company?
If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a Maryland car accident and are currently dealing with a difficult insurance company, the experienced Maryland injury lawyers at Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers can help. At Lebowitz & Mzhen Personal Injury Lawyers we represent injury victims in a wide range of Maryland car accident cases, including those involving complex contractual terms and reluctant insurance companies. To learn more, call 410-654-3600 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case with an attorney today.
More Blog Posts:
Court Finds Manufacturer Not Liable for Plaintiff’s Injuries Based on a Third-Party’s Misuse of the Product, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published July 3, 2018.
The Dangers of Fatigued Driving in Maryland, Maryland Car Accident Attorney Blog, published June 18, 2018.