Choice or chance? UM limits disputed
On November 8, 2012, Wanda Morgan was injured in a motor vehicle collision caused by Dwain Mims. Morgan alleged that she had suffered damages totaling more than $100,000 to date, and her husband Victor asserted a claim for loss of consortium. Mims was covered under an automobile policy that had a liability limit of $25,000 per person. In response to a demand from the Morgans, Mims’s insurer tendered a check for $25,000.
The Morgans were covered under an automobile policy issued by GEICO that had a liability limit of $100,000 per person. The policy also included UM coverage. The Morgans demanded $100,000 in UM coverage from GEICO under their policy. GEICO tendered a check for $25,000, which it alleged was the per-person limit of the Morgans’ UM coverage.
The Morgans filed a personal injury action against Mims, and they served GEICO as their UM carrier. GEICO answered and counterclaimed for a declaratory judgment that the Morgans’ UM coverage was limited to $25,000. GEICO then filed a motion for summary judgment. The court denied GEICO’s motion and ruling, stating that as a matter of law the Morgans’ policy provided UM coverage with a limit of $100,000 per person. GEICO appealed.
On appeal, GEICO argued that the relevant undisputed facts and applicable law showed that the Morgans’ UM coverage was limited to $25,000 per person and that the trial court erred by ruling otherwise.
According to the appellate court, the record showed that the Morgans first purchased the policy in 1986. In 1991, they completed an optional coverages selection form provided by GEICO, indicating their wish to include UM coverage in the policy. The form listed several available UM coverage options, and the Morgans checked a box designating the amount of coverage they wanted. In 1992, they discontinued that coverage and completed another selection form, indicating that they rejected UM coverage “entirely.” In February 2000, and again in January 2003, the Morgans completed additional selection forms confirming that GEICO had offered them UM coverage at various limits, but they had rejected any coverage.
In August 2003, the Morgans made several changes to their policy, including adding back UM coverage. They did not complete an optional coverage selection form in connection with the addition of UM coverage. GEICO had no record of the Morgans’ 2003 request for UM coverage, but GEICO believed it “was probably by telephone,” although it “could have been by Internet.” The Morgans submitted affidavits stating that when they added UM coverage, GEICO did not explain to them, “verbally or otherwise,” that they could select coverage in an amount equal to their policy’s liability limits. GEICO renewed the policy every six months thereafter, and the Morgans completed no selection forms in connection with these renewals. The declarations page of the policy in effect at the time of Wanda Morgan’s accident indicated that the policy provided UM coverage with a limit of $25,000 per person.
The appellate court considered the question of whether the Morgans affirmatively chose a $25,000 limit when they requested UM coverage in 2003.
GEICO contended that the Morgans admitted that they chose the statutory minimum. In a Request for Admissions, GEICO asked the Morgans to admit the following: “On the posting date of August 4, 2003, and for an effective date of August 17, 2003, the Morgans effected a number of changes in their policy, including … uninsured motorist coverage was added in the statutory minimum coverage amounts of $25,000/$50,000/$25,000.” The Morgans responded, “Admitted.” According to GEICO, that admission conclusively settled any dispute regarding the amount of coverage.
GEICO’s next request asked the Morgans to admit that, in effecting the changes described in the previous request, the Morgans “affirmatively chose uninsured motorist coverage limits in an amount less than the limits of liability coverage” under the policy. The Morgans responded: “Denied.” Similarly, in another request, GEICO asked the Morgans to admit that in August 2003 they affirmatively chose to add UM coverage in minimum limits to their policy. The Morgans responded:
“Denied. In August of 2003, Plaintiffs added uninsured motorist coverage to their policy, but were not given the option of adding it in an amount equal to the $100,000.00 liability policy limits. As such, Plaintiffs did not “affirmatively choose” to add uninsured motorist insurance coverage (in minimum limits of $25,000.00 per person for bodily injury and/or death).”
The court stated that there was no evidence that the Morgans affirmatively chose a UM limit lower than the default amount. Accordingly, the trial court did not err by construing the policy to provide UM coverage in an amount equal to the policy’s bodily injury liability coverage.