At fault driver may not benefit from injured driver’s policy
On September 20, 2012, The Indiana Court of Appeals held that the party at-fault to an auto accident cannot benefit from Plaintiff’s purchase of uninsured/underinsured coverage and acceptance of underinsured motorist benefit compensation.
When the trial court jury found the Defendant, Alan Steady, 100% at-fault for injuries sustained by Ronald Kern in an auto accident, a judgment in the amount of $98,000 was entered against the Defendant. Plaintiff Kern received policy limits of defendant’s minimal legal coverage of $25,000 by Steady’s insurance company. Kern also received $68,000 in underinsured motorist benefits from his own insurance company, State Farm, as well as $5,000 in medical payment coverage. Steady then asked the Court that the $98,000 judgment against him be deemed fully satisfied and the trial court granted his request.
State Farm then appealed to the higher court for the right to recover from Defendant the amount of $68,000 in funds they paid their client in underinsured motorist benefits and $5,000 in medical payment benefits. Defendant claimed State Farm was not a party to the lawsuit when judgment was entered against him. But the Court of Appeals citing Indiana Code section 27-7-5-6(a) confirmed that State Farm had standing to appeal as follows:
“The insurer shall be subrogated, to the extent of such payment, to the proceeds of any settlement or judgment that may later result from the exercise of any rights of recovery of such person against any person or organization legally responsible for said bodily injury or death, or property damage, for which payment is made by the insurer. Such insurer may enforce such rights in its own name or in the name of the person to whom payment has been made, as in their interest may appear, by proper action in any court of competent jurisdiction.”
On the merits of the case, the appellate court cited once again Indiana Code section 27-7-5-6(a) which provides a right of recovery by the insurer against a third-party tortfeasor and that the insurer “…shall then be subrogated to the proceeds of any settlement or judgment that results.”
The Court concluded that the trial court erred:
“Steady is not entitled to benefit from Kern’s carefulness and assiduousness in obtaining underinsured motorist coverage.”
The case was reversed and remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.
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By Charlie Ward