Uninsured motorist (UM) and underinsured motorist (UIM) insurance coverage can provide much-needed security to accident victims in a number of situations when the at-fault driver’s insurance is nonexistent and/or insufficient to compensate them for their injuries. Ohio law permits state minimum auto liability policies in the amount of $25,000, an amount that is often inadequate to cover even a short hospital stay worth of medical expenses. As such, UM/UIM coverage is in many cases the primary (or only) means by which an accident victim can be compensated for the disability, loss of income, and pain and suffering caused by serious accident-related injuries.
UM/UIM Coverage Provides Protection to Accident Victims
Although the applicability of UM/UIM coverage varies due to differences in policy language used by insurance companies, in some cases it can provide protection in a unique, but not uncommon, situation: when an accident is caused by an emergency vehicle. Firetrucks, ambulances, and police vehicles are involved in thousands of accidents each year, many of them occurring while responding to a call. A 2014 publication from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration revealed that on average, approximately 2,600 people are injured annually in ambulance accidents alone. Given the size of these vehicles and the high rate of speed that they are often traveling when responding to an emergency, this can result in particularly violent collisions.
Under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Act, police officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel are often immune from liability for accidents occurring in the line of duty while responding to an emergency call. As such, accident victims and their families are unable to recover damages for medical expenses, lost income, or pain and suffering from the at-fault party in these situations.
Policy Language Matters When Choosing UM/UIM Coverage
In Snyder v. American Family Ins. Co., 2007-Ohio-4004, the Ohio Supreme Court held that an injured party in this situation could not recover from her own UM policy after being struck by a police car that was in pursuit of a fleeing suspect. Because the policy in that case contained language limiting coverage to situations where she was “legally entitled to recover,” political subdivision immunity applied both to the liability claim as well as her own breach of contract claim seeking UM benefits.
However, when the same factual scenario arose in Marusa v. Erie Insurance Co., 2013-Ohio-1957, the insurance policy at issue specifically included a motor vehicle whose owner “has immunity under the Ohio Political Subdivision Tort Liability Law” within the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle.” Despite including this definition in the policy, the insurer nonetheless fought to deny coverage and argued that the Snyder ruling 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, allowing the injured party to recover benefits under the UM policy she had purchased.
As these cases demonstrate, variances in policy language can have a profound impact on an accident victim’s ability to recover under his or her own policy. We would urge readers to pay close attention to these issues when shopping for auto insurance, as having adequate and applicable UM/UIM coverage is vital when disaster strikes.
If you have been injured in a car accident, Rourke & Blumenthal can provide aggressive representation for your case. Our Columbus car accident attorneys have won more than $300 million on behalf of our clients. Call (614) 321-3212 or contact us online to schedule a free case evaluation.