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Harris v. Haynes – Underinsured Motorist Coverage Undercut by Workers’ Comp

Because there are so many people who drive on a regular basis for work, it’s inevitable some of those individuals will be involved in crashes. When injuries occur on-the-clock, there is the possibility of collecting workers’ compensation benefits to cover expenses. However, that can impact a person’s ability to collect uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage if the at-fault party was not adequately insured.accidentreport

West Palm Beach car accident lawyers note Florida allows an uninsured motorist carrier to offset payments made by a workers’ compensation carrier, per Florida Statute 627.727. Your attorney can help you navigate these provisions. Uninsured motorist coverage might provide more overall protection, but workers’ compensation benefits are usually secured faster, so long as there is little question you were working at the time of the crash.

Insurers are going to still try to limit their level of liability, and one of those ways is by arguing certain methods of determining that set-off amount. Some policies indicate the insurance company will not compensate a claimant for injuries that were compensated or could have been compensated by workers’ compensation insurance.

What ends up happening is workers settle the workers’ compensation claim too quickly, anticipating a larger payout from the auto insurance company. When that doesn’t happen, the claimant may be out of luck. The 2000 Florida appellate court case of National Union Fire Insurance Co. of Pittsburgh v. Blackmon affirmed that uninsured motorist payments may be set off by workers’ comp benefits that have been paid or are due and payable.

More recently in the case of Harris v. Haynes, the Tennessee Supreme Court tackled a similar issue. This case involved a government employee, specifically, a police officer, who was struck while on duty by an uninsured motorist. The question was whether his employer’s insurance would cover uninsured motorist benefits after he received workers’ compensation benefits.

According to court records, in August 2009, a patrolman was struck by a pickup truck driven by an uninsured motorist. The officer received workers’ compensation benefits for his injuries. Later, the officer and his wife sued the driver and the truck’s owner, alleging negligence and vicarious liability and seeking damages.

The trial court entered a default judgment for plaintiffs in the amount of $1 million in damages to the officer and $250,000 to his wife (for loss of consortium). However, neither the truck driver or owner was insured. As a result, the officer sought uninsured motorist coverage from the county’s vehicle liability coverage provider, the Tennessee Risk Management Trust. Unlike a traditional insurance company, this entity is created through inter-local agreements among government entities, which combine their financial and administrative resources to provide risk management, insurance, reinsurance and self-insurance.

The trust argued employees who receive workers’ compensation benefits were ineligible to receive underinsured motorist coverage. The plaintiff argued this exclusion conflicted with state law, which mandates every auto liability policy include uninsured motorist coverage that is equal to the bodily injury limits of the liability policy. However, the trust argued it wasn’t an actual insurance company, and therefore was not subject to those requirements.

The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of the trust, finding it to be a government risk pool, and a form of self-insurance. The appellate court affirmed, as did the state supreme court.

Similar findings have been established by the supreme courts in both Ohio and Texas.

If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at (888) 751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Harris v. Haynes, Aug. 26, 2014, Tennessee Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Carpenter v. Kenneth Thompson Builder, Inc. – Claim-Splitting Barred in Injury Cases, Sept. 3, 2014, West Palm Beach Car Accident Lawyer Blog