Far too many motorists in Florida drive without insurance. Recent estimates by the Insurance Research Council put the figure at 1 in 4. Compounding the problem is even those who carry insurance often pay for only the minimum.
Our car accident lawyers in Naples know this means that when a person is involved in a serious crash, the insurance of the at-fault driver doesn’t cover all necessary expenses for injury and property damage. This is where uninsured and underinsured motorist claims come into play.
Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage will cover the difference between what the at-fault driver’s insurance paid and the compensation required to cover your costs. In most policies, one of the requirements of securing this coverage is that all other remedies first be exhausted before pursuing a claim.
This was the issue in the recent case of Carter v. Progressive Mountain Ins., considered by the Georgia Supreme Court. Although it’s an out-of-state case, the basic legal principles still apply to drivers here in Florida.
Here, the injured driver’s insurer argued that because the majority of compensation granted by the at-fault driver’s insurer was classified as punitive damages, rather than compensatory, the driver had not exhausted all other remedies. While the district court and appellate court affirmed this ruling, the state supreme court reversed.
Compensatory damages are a form of compensation granted to cover actual expenses. Punitive damages, meanwhile, are those that are still paid to you, but intended to punish the at-fault party.
In this case, according to court records, the crash occurred in February 2010. The at-fault driver was suspected of being under the influence of alcohol. The at-fault driver’s insurance policy carried a liability limit of $30,000 per person. Meanwhile, the injured driver’s uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage liability limit was $25,000 per individual.
The injured driver sued the at-fault driver, and served notice to her own insurance regarding her intention to collect underinsured motorist benefits. The plaintiff entered into a settlement with the at-fault driver’s insurer to pay the full $30,000 limit, with the payment being allocated as $1,000 for compensatory damages and $29,000 for punitive damages.
The injured woman’s insurer filed a motion for summary judgment on the claim of underinsured motorist coverage, arguing that by classifying the majority of the payment as punitive damages, the plaintiff failed to meet the requirements for recovery of underinsured motorist benefits. The trial court granted this motion, and an appellate court affirmed this decision, finding the allocation of damages resulted in the plaintiff forfeiting her claim to supplemental benefits from her own insurer. The court cited state statute indicating drivers may only recover such benefits to cover actual losses or injuries, and that punitive damages weren’t recoverable under underinsured motorist coverage policies.
The state supreme court indicated that while it’s true all other remedies must be exhausted, the appellate court had erred in its finding that punitive damages couldn’t be recovered from UIM.
The high court underscored the fact that punitive damages arise from and are based on compensable injury to a plaintiff. The key point is that the coverage not exceed the insured’s economic and non-economic losses. In this case, it did not, and therefore the judgment was reversed and the injured party will be allowed to collect further compensation from her own insurer.
If you have been injured in a car accident in Naples, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Carter v. Progressive Mountain Ins., July 11, 2014, Georgia Supreme Court
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Fatal Florida Truck Crash Has Lawmakers Looking Closer at Regulation, April 20, 2014, Naples Car Accident Lawyer Blog