JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Supreme Court has reversed and remanded to Jasper County a judgment that awarded $100,000 in uninsured motorist coverage benefits to the survivors of a woman killed in a crash caused by a tractor-trailer driver.
In a 5-1 decision written by Judge Zel M. Fischer, the Supreme Court found that the Shelter Mutual Insurance Co. policy covering Angela Swadley "unambiguously" precludes underinsured motorist coverage from applying to the claim.
According court records, Swadley was killed in March 2013 following a multi-vehicle collision that began when a Silk Way Trans driver hit her automobile while its driver was attempting to change lanes.
The company that insured the Silk Way Trans LLC driver and vehicle paid Swadley’s survivors $823,874 from a $1 million liability policy. The remaining balance of the liability policy went to the other injured driver.
Swadleys' survivors then filed a claim for the full amount of her underinsured motorist coverage with her Shelter policy.
The insurer denied the claim on the ground that the Silk Way driver was not "underinsured," according to court records.
The Swadley survivors then sued Shelter, alleging they were entitled to the available policy limit of $100,000 in underinsured benefits.
Shelter agreed that the Swadleys had sustained at least $923,874 in damages and did not contest that they received insufficient funds from the at-fault driver’s insurer to pay all their damages.
Shelter, however, contested only whether the Swadleys were entitled to underinsured motorist coverage under the policy.
A Jasper County circuit judge had granted summary judgment to the Swadley plaintiffs, holding the underinsured motorist endorsement in the policy was misleading and ambiguous and ordering Shelter to pay $100,000 to the Swadleys.
“The Swadleys are unable to point to specific language within the policy that purports to create ambiguity, or grants coverage in one section and takes that coverage away in another section, outside of the declarations page,” the state Supreme Court's opinion said. “They contend that the UIM (uninsured motorist) endorsement is ambiguous, and that similar language in other endorsements have been held to be ambiguous.
“The trial court erred in concluding that the Policy was misleading and ambiguous so that $100,000 of UIM coverage was available to the Swadleys on that basis.”
Justice Nancy Steffen Rahmeyer dissented.