first step in recovering insurance proceeds is finding the relevant insurance
policies. This can be an easy task at
times: when a storm damages your home you look to your homeowner’s policy; when
you are involved in a car accident you look to your auto policy and the other
driver’s auto policy.
times, however, the task is not so simple.
The relevant policies may have been destroyed. The individuals knowledgeable about historic
policies have passed away. The policies
may be in the possession of an unknown third party. Pursuing insurance coverage in these
circumstances requires investigation and creativity, as coverage can be found
in unexpected places.
A good example of this is Erie Indemnity
Company v. Estate of Harris, 2017 Ind. App. LEXIS 316 (Ind. Ct. App. July
31, 2017), where the estate of a deceased employee—who was tragically killed by
a truck while mowing his lawn—recovered $1,000,000 in uninsured motorists
benefits under the employer’s commercial auto policy.
Estate of Harris, Brian Harris was
cutting his grass on a riding lawnmower in Goshen, Indiana, on August 6, 2010, when
he was struck and killed by the driver of a 1974 Chevy truck. The driver had borrowed the truck with the
permission of its owners, but he was driving on a suspended license and under
the influence of illegal drugs. Because
the driver was unlicensed, the insurance policy issued to the owners of the
truck did not apply and the driver was deemed to be an uninsured motorist. At the time of the appeal, the driver was
incarcerated. Mr. Harris’ family
suffered millions of dollars in damages, yet those at fault for the accident
were not viable sources of recovery.
Estate instead pursued coverage under a commercial auto policy issued to Mr.
Harris’s employer. Mr. Harris worked for
a plastic design and manufacturing company since 1993, and during his
employment he drove a company-owned vehicle as his primary transportation for
both business and personal uses. His
employer first submitted an application for a commercial auto policy in 1993,
and that application identified Mr. Harris as one of three drivers of the
eleven covered vehicles. The policy
listed the company as the sole “Named Insured” and designated the autos that
were covered, but did not mention individual drivers. That policy was renewed each year and was
still in effect at the time of the accident at issue. The policy included an Uninsured Motorist
Coverage Endorsement, which supplied limits of $1,000,000 per accident, and
listed Mr. Harris’s company-owned vehicle as a designated auto. Mr. Harris paid no premiums and was not a
named insured under the policy.
Estate submitted a claim to the employer’s insurer and filed suit after the
claim was denied. On appeal, the Court
of Appeals held that the uninsured motorist coverage endorsement in the
employer’s commercial auto policy applied to Mr. Harris’s accident and that the
Estate was entitled to recover the full limits of the policy. The court concluded that Mr. Harris was
covered by the policy because the phrase “others we protect” was ambiguous and
the insurer agreed that, at least in some circumstances, this endorsement would
provide uninsured motorist benefits to Mr. Harris. The court also concluded that the uninsured
motorist coverage endorsement applied to Mr. Harris even when he was outside of
a designated auto because an exclusion in the endorsement expressly excluded
coverage for those protected by the policy while struck as pedestrians by an
uninsured motor vehicle owned by Mr.
Harris’ employer. Thus, because the
uninsured vehicle was not owned by the employer, the endorsement provided
coverage to Mr. Harris as a pedestrian in these circumstances.
is a good example of finding coverage in an unexpected place. Most people would not expect to recover
insurance proceeds under their employer’s commercial auto policy when injured
by an uninsured motorist while at home, mowing their lawn, and not while using
the auto designated in their employer’s insurance policy. That is why investigating every potential
source of recovery is critical when you have suffered damages or are facing
allegations of liability. That
investigation could lead to the discovery of potentially relevant insurance
policies worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
course, finding the relevant insurance policies is only the first step. You then need to show that you are entitled
to coverage under those policies, which can be an equally challenging task.
Leagre concentrates his practice in the areas of insurance recovery and
coverage litigation, business litigation, other complex commercial litigation,
and personal injury. Ryan has experience
in investigating and locating historic insurance policies, which can be
valuable assets for policyholders and a source of funds for environmental
property damage claims.
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