On January 16, 2013, a Wisconsin appellate court resolved an issue that has been highly contested between consumers and their insurance companies over the last several years. The Belding case involved a claim by a plaintiff who was seriously injured in a car accident when he was struck by a drunk driver. The drunk driver had no insurance. The plaintiff had two vehicles insured by State Farm, and on each vehicle he paid premiums for $100,000 in uninsured motorist ("UM") coverage. Under those circumstances, the victim makes a claim against his own insurance company to obtain his UM limits.
Mr. Belding had been paying premiums for $200,000 in UM limits ($100,000 on each vehicle). In addition, a 2009 law entitled Truth in Auto (which has since been repealed) was in effect at the time of the accident and at the time the insurance policy was issued. That law specifically provided that an insurance company could not prohibit its insured from "stacking" together the limits of up to three insured vehicles for underinsured or uninsured motor vehicle coverage. Despite that law, and despite the fact Mr. Belding did insure two vehicles with State Farm, the company tried to deny his claim for $200,000 in UM coverage. Instead, the company claimed that a provision in the policy called the "drive other car exclusion" prevented the plaintiff from stacking those coverages. Thus, the company claimed, only $100,000 in coverage was available.
The Court of Appeals essentially used common sense to resolve the dispute. The Court held that the law in effect at the time specifically forbid the insurer from disallowing the stacking of UM coverage. Furthermore, the Court explained the history of the drive other car exclusions inserted in the policy showed that such an exclusion was meant for completely different circumstances. That exclusion was originally meant to prevent an insured from owning two cars but only paying insurance on one of the cars, and then trying to obtain coverage for an accident involving the car that was not insured at all. Excluding coverage under those facts makes sense. If the insured did not pay for insurance on two cars, they should not be allowed to obtain coverage for two cars. But, if the insured has paid for coverage on both cars, and the law specifically allows the underinsured motorist coverage to be stacked, then the insurer must provide that amount of coverage.
It is worth noting that the plaintiffs in this situation still have to prove that their harms and damages suffered as a result fo the other driver's negligence were worth at least as much as the policy limites in order for the insurance company to be obligated to pay that amount. The decision from the Court simply established that the insurance company must at least concede that amount of coverage was potentially available to its insured.
If you or a family member has a similar situation, you may want to consider contacting a Wisconsin car accident attorney or a Wisconsin wrongful insurance denial attorney. Atterbury, Kammer & Haag, S.C. provides attorneys with a wealth of experience in both areas.