No one wants to get into a car accident in the first place, and matters are made even worse when the other driver doesn’t have adequate insurance coverage. The best scenario in that situation is that a driver has uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage. Even then, a driver must worry that his insurance company, as his UIM carrier, will dispute liability. A recent South Carolina Court of Appeals opinion illustrates how complicated matters can become in what one might think should be a straightforward car accident case. It also reveals some of the interesting decisions that a state might make when trying to regulate who, when, and how folks are compensated following a car accident.
In that case, Lincoln General v. Progressive Northern, the practical issue was which gargantuan insurance company would end up paying for damage caused by the negligent driver in a car accident. One of these insurance companies, the trail court plaintiff, was the UIM carrier, who had already paid up (for the injuries caused by the negligent driver). The other was the insurance company who had granted a policy to the owner of the negligently driven car. The policy, however, had an “endorsement” specifically excepting coverage of an individual in the policy holder’s household whose driver’s license had been revoked by the SC DMV. That sets up the legal issue: whether an insurance carrier must provide coverage despite a “named driver endorsement” (i.e. a provision excepting a named driver).
The policy backdrop here is that South Carolina law will require liability insurance companies to pay innocently injured drivers except in very limited cases, whether the policy purports to exclude coverage or not. The idea is that insurance companies should bear the loss, rather than the not-at-fault driver, whenever possible.
This case, however, deals with a specific exception made by South Carolina in the Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Act (the MVFRA) for these “named driver endorsements.” Realizing that if insurance companies knew that anybody in a household would end up being covered in the event of an accident, insurance rates might become very expensive for drivers who had someone with a revoked license and bad driving record in their home, the SC legislature allows individuals to add to their policy a named driver endorsement, to specifically exclude the driver with a revoked license.
Despite the MVFRA clearly making this exception, the trial court read the MVFRA as generally requiring coverage up to state minimum policy limits in all cases. The Court of Appeals rejected this because of the MVFRA’s clear exception for drivers whose licenses had been revoked.
The takeaway here for anyone who isn’t a subrogation lawyer is that named driver endorsements for folks whose licenses have been revoked will be respected and that UIM litigation is sometimes quite complicated.
The complete opinion is included below the fold.