Auto Accidents Newsletters
Policies of motor vehicle insurance are detailed documents that cover numerous aspects of the business relationship between an insurer and its insured. When this fact is matched up with the great variety of ways in which incidents can occur that may give rise to claims under a policy, it will not be considered surprising that the insurer and the insured will sometimes hold differing views of the meaning of a particular policy provision. When a party to a contract of motor vehicle insurance asserts that potential ambiguities exist in the language of an auto insurance policy, courts are often called upon to decide the meanings of the disputed policy terms and rule on related issues of coverage under the policy.
An automobile insurance policy may have a provision for "other insurance." When more than one insurance policy provides coverage for a loss, the "other insurance" clause can limit an insurance company's liability by defining the priority in which the policy should pay an insured's claim. There are three types of "other insurance" clauses: (1) pro rata; (2) excess; and (3) escape.
An insurance company has a duty to fully investigate an insured's claim for benefits before denying it. A thorough investigation and fair evaluation of an insured's claim requires an insurance company to examine the insured's proof of loss statement and supporting documents. Further, the insurance company cannot ignore evidence that is available to it which supports the claim. That is, the insurance company cannot focus only on the facts that would justify its denial of the claim.
A plaintiff in an automotive products liability case against the manufacturer or seller of a motor vehicle generally has to prove that the vehicle at the time of sale contained a defect that created an unreasonable risk of death, personal injury, or property damage when the vehicle was used for its intended purpose and that the defect caused an accident or similar incident, such as a vehicle fire, that resulted in the damage or loss for which the plaintiff seeks to recover damages. Under traditional legal principles, any party involved in the chain of transactions leading up to the retail sale of the vehicle, including the dealer who sold the car or truck, could be held liable in such a case. Motor vehicle dealers, like any party against whom a legal action is brought, would like to limit their potential liability to matters for which they can be shown to have a direct and undeniable responsibility.
Underinsured motorist and uninsured motorist provisions in auto insurance policies often contain language stating that the underinsured or uninsured motorist coverage will not become available until the policy limits of all insurance policies that are applicable to the accident have been exhausted by the payment of judgments or settlements. Such exhaustion requirements are included in the policy because of the substitute or supplemental nature of the coverage and the understandable desire of the insurer to assure that all other available coverage has been applied before it is obligated to pay benefits under the underinsured or uninsured motorist provisions of the policy.