Maryland Plaintiffs Succeed in Lawsuit Against Auto Insurance Company for Coverage of Wrongful Death Claim

In many car accident cases, disputes can arise regarding insurance coverage for certain types of injuries.  In Kivitz v. Erie Ins. Exch. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Apr. 29, 2016), the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland considered whether an automobile insurance policy containing a household exclusion barred the wrongful death claims of the surviving children arising out of a fatal car accident.

The driver in the case was involved in a car accident that resulted in the death of his passenger.  The driver and passenger lived at the same residence but were not married.  They jointly owned an automobile insurance policy issued by the defendant.  The insurance policy contained a household exclusion, which excluded coverage for the passenger’s own injury and death.  After the fatal accident, the passenger’s adult children brought their own wrongful death claims against the insurance company, seeking to recover compensation for their mental anguish and loss of consortium.  The insurer declined coverage, asserting that the children’s claims were derivative of the passenger’s claims and thus were barred by the household exclusion.

The policy at issue covered the driver’s legal obligations for damages for personal injuries resulting from a covered occurrence.  The policy excluded coverage for personal injury to the policyholders themselves, or to adults who resided in the same household as a policyholder.  The term “personal injury” was included in the definition of “bodily injury” under the policy.  Bodily injury was defined as physical harm, sickness, or disease including mental anguish, care, loss of services, or resulting death.

The court first determined whether the wrongful death claims would be covered as damages for personal injury under the policy, notwithstanding the exclusions.  Under a literal reading, the court noted that the passenger unquestionably suffered a bodily injury in the collision.  In addition, the passenger’s children’s claims of mental anguish and loss of services also fell within the definition of “bodily injury” under the policy.  The court explained that, even though loss of services is not typically regarded as a bodily injury, when an insurance policy specifically defines “bodily injury” to include loss of services, the insurer’s own definition controls the extent of the coverage.  Accordingly, the court concluded that both the passenger and her children sustained a personal injury as a result of the automobile accident.

Having determined the claims fell within the initial scope of liability coverage, the court went on to examine whether the policy nevertheless excluded coverage for those injuries.  Under the policy exclusion for household members, the court concluded that the passenger’s physical harm and resulting death were not covered.  However, her adult children were not excluded as household members, and the policy did not limit or exclude derivative claims arising out of another person’s injuries.  As a result, the court held that the insurance company was contractually obligated to pay the loss arising out of the children’s claims for which its insured was liable.

If you are involved in a coverage dispute with your insurance company following an automobile accident, a qualified attorney may be able to help.  The personal injury lawyers at Foran & Foran, P.A. can represent Maryland plaintiffs in cases against negligent parties.  We handle a range of injury claims arising out of car crashes, premises liability, medical malpractice, and more.  To discuss your claim with an experienced attorney, call Foran & Foran at (301) 441-2022 or contact us online to schedule an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Court Orders Insurance Company to Cover Loss for Wrongful Death Claims Arising Out of Car Accident, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 17, 2016

Maryland Court Affirms Verdict for Plaintiff in Car Accident Case, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published June 15, 2016

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