In some car accident cases, issues concerning insurance coverage can become an integral part of litigation, since individual defendants may not have the financial resources available to pay an award of damages to plaintiffs. In a relevant opinion, Weiskerger v. Paik’s Decorators, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 29, 2016), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland addressed the question of whether an insurance company properly denied coverage for a member of the insured’s household who died in an automobile accident. In Weiskerger, a motorist was involved in an accident that resulted in the death of his passenger, who was a resident of his household. The two adult sons of the passenger brought wrongful death claims against the motorist and the other driver, alleging that their negligence caused their mother’s death.
Seeking to determine the extent of the motorist’s insurance coverage, the motorist’s estate requested a declaratory judgment from the court finding that the policy obligated the insurance company to indemnify it for any damages assessed as a result of the son’s wrongful death claims. In turn, the insurance company denied coverage on the basis of the policy’s household exclusion, which excluded liability coverage for physical harm to the passenger and her resulting death. After the trial court found in favor of the insurance company, the motorist’s estate appealed.
Maryland courts follow the laws of contract interpretation in determining the rights of the insured under an insurance policy. That is, when the clear language of the policy is unambiguous, the court will give effect to its plain, ordinary, and usual meaning, taking into account the context in which it is used. However, in Maryland, any ambiguity will be construed liberally in favor of the insured and against the insurer as the drafter of the instrument. A term in an insurance policy is considered ambiguous if, when read by a reasonable layperson, the language is susceptible of more than one meaning.
In Weiskerger, the policy’s definition of “bodily injury” was not given its ordinary meaning but was specifically defined by the insurance company in the policy. Finding ambiguity in whether the policy language included mental anguish and loss of services as different types of bodily injury, the court interpreted the provision in favor of the insured and concluded that the policy covered damages for such injuries. Accordingly, the sons’ wrongful death claims against the insured motorist will be covered by the insurance company should they succeed.
After ruling that the sons’ loss falls within the scope of liability coverage, the court next determined whether the household exclusion provision in the policy nevertheless prevents coverage. In Maryland, exclusions must be clearly and expressly set forth in the policy. The Weiskerger court found that although the household exclusion excluded the passenger’s estate from coverage for her death, the provision did not exclude non-household members, i.e., her adult sons, from recovering for her death, nor did it place any restrictions on derivative claims or damages arising out of another person’s injuries. As a result, the appeals court ordered the insurance company to cover the net loss, if any, should the motorist become obligated in the sons’ wrongful death action.
If you are fighting your insurance company to receive coverage for injuries caused by a motor vehicle accident, obtaining legal representation by an experienced attorney may be beneficial. The personal injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have worked with many clients in Maryland to assist them in recovering compensation for auto accidents, slip and falls, medical malpractice, and other negligence claims. To schedule a consultation with one of our dedicated accident attorneys, call Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online.
More Blog Posts:
Maryland Court Rules in Favor of Insureds, Awards Underinsured Motorist Coverage in Moped and Motor Scooter Cases, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published December 14, 2015
Maryland Court Affirms Verdict for Plaintiff in Car Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 15, 2016