INSURANCE-RELATED COURT CASES
Digested from case reports published online
Dueling UM clauses
Niyokia Lee and James Cooper sustained damages in separate, independent automobile accidents caused by negligent city emergency responders. Lee’s accident happened in Harrison County and Cooper’s happened in Rankin County. The Mississippi Tort Claims Act (MTCA) afforded immunity to the negligent police officer, the fireman, and the government entities that employed them.
Because Lee and Cooper could not recover from the responders or municipalities, both sought recovery under their auto policies’ uninsured motorist (UM) provisions. Lee and Cooper had the same UM coverage carrier—State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. State Farm denied UM coverage to both, citing Mississippi Code Section 83-11-101(1) of Mississippi’s Uninsured Motorist Act. As State Farm saw it, because the officer and fireman enjoyed police and fire protection immunity under the MTCA, neither policyholder was legally entitled to recover from the immune responders or their city employers. State Farm thus denied UM coverage to Lee and Cooper despite the fact that in 2009 the state legislature had revised Mississippi Code Section 83-11-103(c) of the UM act by adding a new subsection expanding the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” to include “[a] motor vehicle owned or operated by a person protected by immunity under the [MTCA.]”
The two trial courts that considered the UM coverage issue reached opposite results. The Harrison County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in State Farm’s favor and dismissed Lee’s claims against State Farm, finding that because the officer was immune, Lee was not “legally entitled to recover” and consequently was not eligible for UM coverage. The Rankin County Circuit Court granted summary judgment in Cooper’s favor against State Farm, ruling that UM coverage did apply because otherwise the 2009 amendment to the UM act, which expanded the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” to include vehicles operated by persons who are immune under the MTCA, would be “rendered virtually meaningless.”
The Mississippi Supreme Court, consolidating the two cases, found that the plain language of the two provisions made it apparent that Lee and Cooper were entitled to UM coverage. It therefore reversed and remanded the decision of the Harrison County Circuit Court, and affirmed and remanded the decision of the Rankin County Circuit Court.