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: