Allstate Liable in Fatal Accident Because Victim Was a ‘Resident Relative’
The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Allstate must pay $25,000 in uninsured motorist benefits to the estranged husband of a woman who died while riding as a passenger in a car crash after moving back in with her parents.
The high court found that Shelina Glover was covered under her parents’ policy as a “resident relative.” The court rejected Allstate’s arguments that no coverage was owed because Glover’s parents did not add her to the policy as an additional “operator.”
In an opinion written by Justice Geoffrey G. Slaughter, the court said Allstate Property and Casualty Insurance Co. did not define the term in its policy and Allstate’s lawyers did not offer a definition in their pleadings. “Given the policy’s silence and the term’s plain meaning, we interpret ‘operator’ to be a person who is or will be operating one of the vehicles covered under the policy,” the court said. “Applying this interpretation, we hold that Shelina was not an operator.”
The Supreme Court also rejected Allstate’s arguments that it owed nothing because of an anti-stacking provision in its policy, holding that the policy limited only a portion of the payment due.
Glover died in a three-car accident on July 22, 2016. She was riding in a Toyota pickup driven by Terry Robinson on County Road 300, a narrow two-lane road that cuts a straight line through farmland east of Decatur, Indiana. The two were following Kenneth Bogue, who was pulling a U-Haul trailer.
Matthew Hahn approached the three cars, driving in the opposite direction. As hepassed, he clipped Bogue’s trailer. The impact forced Hahn into Robinson’s path. The two vehicles collided head-on, killing Glover.
She was 35 at the time, according to an online obituary by the Urban Winkler Funeral Home. She left behind a 12-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son.
The crash also killed 2-year-old Matthew Hahn Jr., who was a passenger in Hahn’s Jeep Wrangler, according to a report in The Republic newspaper. Three other children in his car were injured and treated at nearby hospitals.
A state trooper told the newspaper that traffic was being diverted on to county roads because of construction on State Road 3. He said Bogue was pulling a 102-inch trailer along a traffic lane that was 109 inches wide.
Four carriers were at risk. Bogue was insured by Omni Insurance; Robinson by American Family Insurance, Hahn was insured by Allstate and Grover had coverage with GEICO. Omni and Allstate divvied up responsibility for the accident, assigning 52% to Bogue and 48% to Hahn. Omni filed an action offering to pay its policy limits.
As that suit proceeded, Grover’s husband Steven sued Allstate as personal representative of Shelina’s estate. He sought coverage under her parent’s insurance policy, arguing that as a “resident relative” she was insured by the policy.
After Omni’s action went to mediation, Omni and Allstate paid $75,000 to the estate and American Family and GEICO paid $25,000 each.
Allstate sought summary judgment in Grover’s suit seeking additional coverage. The carrier argued that the policy requires that its policy limit be reduced by any amounts recovered through other liability settlements. Because insurers had already paid a total of $125,000, the policy limit was reduced to zero because o the anti-stacking provision, the carrier argued.
The carrier also sought summary judgment on its argument that Shiela Grover was not an insured by her parents’ policy because they had not notified Allstate that she was an additional operator living at their residence.
A district court agreed that Allstate owed nothing because of the anti-stacking agreement, but denied the motion for summary judgment on the notification issue. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
The Supreme Court though, found that Allstate’s anti-stacking limit reduced its liability only by the amounts paid by other liability settlements — so the two settlements that were made under uninsured motorist coverage could not be deducted from Allstate’s $100,000 policy limit. Since the liability settlements added up to $75,000, that left $25,000 in coverage under the Allstate policy, the court said.
The court also found that Shelina was clearly a resident at her parent’s house, and therefore insured by her parents’ policy. The court said Shelina had packed up all of her belongings when she left her husband’s home and notified the United States Postal Service of the address change.
The Allstate policy did not require notification because Shelina had her own car and had no plan to use her parents’ vehicles, the court said.
“For the notice requirement to apply, Shelina must have been an “operator” who resides within their household,” the opinion says.
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