In a recent 4-3 decision in
Marusa v. Erie Ins. Co., 2013-Ohio-1957, the Ohio Supreme Court held that an injured accident victim was entitled
to recover from her
uninsured motorist (UM) auto insurance policy when the accident was caused by a police cruiser that was responding to
a call. The case highlights the drastic effects that slight differences
in policy language can have on the level of protection offered to the consumer.
Under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, police officers
or firefighters are often immune from liability for accidents occurring
in the line of duty while responding to an emergency call. The accident
victim is therefore unable to recover damages for medical expenses, lost
income, or pain and suffering from the responsible party in these situations.
A prior decision in
Snyder v. Am. Fam. Ins. Co., 2007-Ohio-4004 held that an injured party in this situation also could not recover from
his own UM policy because the policy in that case limited coverage to
situations where he would be "legally entitled to recover" from
the at-fault driver.
The policy language at issue in
Marusa, however, was slightly different. Although the policy also limited coverage
to situations where the insured was "legally entitled to recover"
from the negligent driver, it also specifically provided that a motor
vehicle whose owner "has immunity under the Ohio Political Subdivision
Tort Liability Law" fell within the definition of "uninsured
motor vehicle." Despite including this definition in the policy,
the insurer nonetheless fought to deny coverage and argued that
Snyder should still control in this situation. However, the Ohio Supreme Court
held that this specific definition controlled over the more general "legally
entitled to recover" language found elsewhere in the policy. Thus,
the injured party could recover benefits under her policy.
Uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance coverage
can provide much needed security to accident victims in a number of situations
where the at-fault driver's insurance is nonexistent and/or inadequate
to compensate them for their injuries. As these cases demonstrate, however,
various loopholes and differences exist which can have a significant impact
on the insured's ability to recover. The
accident attorneys at Rourke & Blumenthal urge readers to contact their insurance agents to ensure that the "immunity"
language present in the
Marusa policy is included in their UM/UIM insurance coverage.
TheMarusa decision can be found at:
TheSnyder opinion can be viewed at: