For victims of hit-and-run accidents in Maryland, seeking compensation for injuries may seem hopeless. In many cases, uninsured motorist coverage may be available through an auto insurance policy held by the driver or injured passenger. In a September 13, 2021 opinion, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether or not an insurance company wrongfully denied the plaintiff’s claim for uninsured motorist benefits.
The plaintiff in the case was riding as a passenger in her daughter’s vehicle when they were rear-ended by a truck. The truck then fled the scene before the driver could be identified. At the time of the accident, the plaintiff and her daughter lived in the same household. The plaintiff’s daughter was insured under a policy that provided uninsured motorist coverage of up to $30,000 per individual. The plaintiff held a separate policy issued by the same insurer, with limits of $300,000 per individual for uninsured motorist coverage.
Because the plaintiff’s medical expenses exceeded the amount of her daughter’s policy limits, the plaintiff sought uninsured motorist benefits under both policies. The insurance company accepted the claim made under her daughter’s policy, but denied the claim made under her own policy. The plaintiff subsequently filed suit against the insurer for breach of the insurance contract. After the circuit court granted summary judgment for the insurer, the plaintiff appealed to the higher court.
In Maryland, auto insurers may exclude certain situations from otherwise mandatory uninsured motorist coverage provided by an insurance policy. In particular, Maryland law allows the exclusion of coverage for injuries that occur while the insured is occupying an uninsured or underinsured vehicle that is either owned by the insured, or by an immediate family member residing in the insured’s household. The rational for the law is to prevent a family with several cars from insuring only one or two, and still being able to claim uninsured motorist benefits despite paying lower or no premiums.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the insurer excluded coverage beyond the scope of Maryland law insofar as it applied to any relative residing in her household–not just immediate family members. The plaintiff asserted that because the exclusion violated Maryland law, it should be struck from the policy.
The appeals court did not agree, however, explaining that when a contractual provision violates public policy, it is invalid only to the extent that it contradicts the law. The court found that, even assuming the exclusion in the plaintiff’s policy was invalid, the remedy would not be to strike it completely, but to limit the exclusion to immediate family members, as provided in the statute. Because the plaintiff would still not recover under her policy, even when construed to conform to the statute, the appeals court affirmed summary judgment.
At Foran & Foran, P.A., we represent car crash victims in claims against insurance companies and negligent drivers. Our Maryland injury attorneys are prepared to help you recover the benefits to which you are entitled after an auto accident or personal injury. Call our office at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online and schedule your free consultation.