Hit-and-Run Uninsured Motorist Coverage Win for Holcomb Dunbar Attorneys
Holcomb Dunbar successfully defended a claim of bad faith insurance adjusting and clarified an important aspect regarding uninsured motorist coverage following a hit-and-run incidents.
Mississippi law provides that insurance policies may limit uninsured motorist (UM) coverage to situations where an uninsured vehicle actually physically contacts a person or the vehicle in which they are occupying, as opposed to situations involving debris or objects set in motion by unidentified vehicles. The Mississippi Supreme Court had held that if an insurance policy only conditioned coverage on “physical contact” that this requirement can be met by indirect contact; that is, contact through a medium of an intervening vehicle or object being propelled by another vehicle. Southern Farm Bureau v. Brewer, 507 So. 2d 369 (Miss. 1987). The Court, however, noted that insurance carriers are free to expressly limit their policy coverage to “actual physical contact,” and thereby limit coverage only to instances of direct, as opposed to indirect, contact.
In this case, a plaintiff claimed that a cut piece of timber or wood dropped from a traveling utility service truck and impacted with her windshield. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi granted Holcomb Dunbar’s motion for summary judgment. In doing so, the federal court noted that the insurance carrier accepted the Mississippi Supreme Court’s invitation to limit hit-and-run coverage to instances of actual physical contact and even took the extra step of further providing that contact by propelled debris does not count. The opinion upheld and validated our insurance client’s UM policy provisions regarding such propelled debris. It also provided helpful guidance on what debris means, adopting our position that “[a]nything entering a roadway that does not belong there is commonly considered debris, and it makes no difference whether the owner intended for the debris to end up in the road as deliberate litter or whether it ended up there by accident, as in the present case.” The court confirmed that the debris does not have to be intentionally propelled and that “basic laws of physics require that some force be applied to the wood in order for it to move. A force that imparts motion was clearly applied to the wood at issue here, or it would have remained in the bed of the truck. The fact that this force caused the wood to bounce out of the truck means it was in every sense of the term ‘propelled.’”