A recent court decision reveals the complicated nature of insurance and motorcycle accidents. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Florida found a motorcyclist is not entitled to so-called stacking uninsured motorist coverage. (Stacked insurance essentially increases your uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage limits based on how many vehicles you insure).
According to court documents, James Brannan suffered injuries in an Oct. 13, 2010, motorcycle accident on Highway 27 in Bronson. The at-fault driver did not carry any insurance. As a result, Brannan received $10,000 from a claim against his uninsured motorist (UM) coverage under his motorcycle policy. Brannan, however, argued he was entitled to an additional $300,000 in policy benefits, plus other compensation. He said the UM benefits under his motorcycle policy should be stacked with the total $300,000 in UM benefits under the auto policy. He owned three automobiles that were insured by Geico under a separate policy.
Injured Motorcyclist Argues He Deserved Additional Compensation
Brannan stated that he was entitled to the $300,000 in UM coverage under his auto policy, but the insurance company disagreed, saying he was not injured while driving any of his autos. Furthermore, Geico said he rejected stacked coverage on his auto policy and that his motorcycle was not insured under the auto policy. Brannan sued for breach of contract, negligence and a failure to provide him with necessary policy information as required under Florida law. But a magistrate judge with the United States District Court, North District of Florida, Gainesville Division, sided with the insurance company.
"Insurance contracts are construed in accordance with the plain language of the policies as bargained for by the parties. ... This Court may not 'rewrite a contract of insurance, extending the coverage afforded beyond that plainly set forth in the insurance contract," United States Magistrate Judge Gary R. Jones stated in his ruling.
The court essentially decided that Brannan's motorcycle policy was the only insurance policy that applied in his accident. Brannan was not injured while driving one of his three automobiles, so he could not receive stacking benefits.
Furthermore, the court held that Brannan expressly rejected stacked coverage when he signed the UM selection form (M-9 form) on his auto policy. This action bars his claim that Geico should be held liable under the theory of negligence because they failed to advise him about the extent of stacking UM coverage under the motorcycle policy. By signing the "non-stacking" agreement, Brannan agreed that he would be limited to the coverage for the motorcycle policy.
According to Florida statute, "If this form (M-9 form) is signed by a named insured ... it shall be conclusively presumed that there was an informed, knowing acceptance of such limitations."
The Brannan v. Geico case illustrates the complexity of insurance claims. Many legal issues can arise after any accident involving injury or fatality. That's why it's wise to consult with an attorney to learn about your rights.