Yesterday, the South Carolina Supreme Court gave some good news to plaintiffs injured by uninsured and underinsured motorists in Nationwide Mutual v. Rhoden. It clarified the previously standing public policy that required uninsured and underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage to extend beyond the express terms of insurance policy contracts. The legal jargon for this policy is that UIM coverage is “personal and portable.” What that means is that UIM coverage extends over individuals whichever car they are driving, rather than simply applying over the insured person only in the insured vehicle.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist insurance coverage is offered by car insurance companies to individuals to protect against the unthinkable: being injured by the as many as 25% of drivers on the road who have no insurance. Instead of simply being stuck with a loss after an accident with uninsured individuals, individuals can (and definitely should) opt for UIM coverage.
However, when individuals actually get injured UIM insurance companies will try, as they always do and frankly must do to stay in business, challenge claims for those injuries. They have in the past had some success limiting coverage to only the insured and only when injury is sustained in the car covered by the insurance policy with the UIM clause.
Courts quickly denied insurance companies this strategy and ruled that UIM policies are “personal and portable” and that individuals will be covered by their UIM policy whether in their own insured car or not. The reasoning is first, that it is better policy to shift the loss from the injured individual to the insurance company, and second, that individuals who are often unsure of what insurance contracts provide should be able to expect coverage.
Nationwide Mutual v. Rhoden clarified the law in an interesting situation. The case involved three individuals: a mother, having UIM coverage; her co-resident daughter; and her non-co-resident daughter without UIM coverage. The mother was driving the second daughter’s car. UIM coverage did not extend to the second daughter both because she had the choice to purchase UIM coverage and did not and she did not live with her mother. The mother and first daughter, however, would have been covered by the express terms of the mother’s UIM policy if they had been in the mother’s car. The court ignored the express language and applied the “personal and portable” policy.
While no huge departure from previous law, this case clarifies that SC Code § 38-77-160 does not interfere with the rule that UIM coverage is “personal and portable.”
The serious injury attorneys of Reeves Aiken & Hightower LLP know how to deal with insurance companies and are ready to fight for you. We encourage you to visit our website at www.rjrlaw.com and compare our attorneys’ credentials to any other firm. You can then call us toll-free at 877-374-5999 for a private, confidential consultation to review your particular case.