Maine Supreme Court Takes on Underinsured Motorist Coverage

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently sided with the parents of a 16-year-old killed in a 2009 car accident, allowing them to move forward in their quest for underinsured motorist benefits.

The core issue was the content of a verbal agreement that took place when the teen initiated the purchase of a $900 truck from a private owner, less than two weeks before he was involved in a fatal crash in that truck. His parents subsequently sought underinsured motorist coverage from three separate insurance companies.

Bangor car accident attorneys know that the issue of uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage in Maine is one that has vexed many car accident victims. The whole point of these statutes is to ensure that the victim can recover as he would have had the at-fault party been insured to the same extent as the injured party.

But these proceedings can be increasingly complex when it comes to “stacking” policies. That is, one person (or estate) is allowed to collect from multiple UM policies on the same accident. However, sometimes the way individual policies are written, the degree to which victims can collect may be limited.

Of course, insurance companies are always seeking ways to limit their own liability, so it is to be expected that they will vigorously fight UM claims.

In the case of Estate of Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., the victim’s mother, on behalf of the teen’s estate, attempted to collect on her policy, the policy of the boy’s father and the policy of the person from whom the truck was purchased. That last one created the most confusion, as there was ample dispute over whether the transaction was in fact completed, and the matter went all the way to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

According to court records, the teen had met with the owner of the truck after calling the telephone number listed on a “For Sale” sign on a truck sitting by the road. The parties agreed to a $900 price tag and the teen later returned with his friend and an envelope of cash.

The truck owner gave the teen a signed bill of sale, the keys, the title and the truck’s maintenance history. He did not sign the assignment of ownership section on the title, and he didn’t complete the odometer disclosure statement. The original owner also left his insurance card in the glove box, and his plates on the vehicle.

The friend would later contend that the owner agreed to allow the teen to use his insurance until he got his own, though the original owner disputes it.

The teen and the original truck owner had no further contact. Eleven days later, the teen was killed in a crash while driving the truck. At the time, the teen had not registered or insured the vehicle.

The truck owner would later call to cancel the insurance policy on the truck retroactive to the date the teen had paid him the money, but it’s not clear if he did so before or after he learned of the wreck.

The driver of the other vehicle was underinsured, but paid the estate $100,000. Each of parents had UIM policies for $100,000, which they contended covered the teen as a household resident/family member. They also sought UIM coverage from the truck owner’s insurance.

All three denied UIM coverage, and the estate filed suit against each for breach of contract. While the trial court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Superior Court granted it.

However, the Supreme Court vacated that judgment, holding that there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the sale had been completed on the truck at the time of the accident. The answer to that question would determine whether each company would be required to pay.

The case has been remanded back to lower courts for further proceeding.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact  Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Estate of Lewis v. Concord Gen. Mut. Ins. Co., March 4, 2014, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:

Deadly Teen Crash Has Maine Investigators Searching for Clues, March 26, 2014, Bangor Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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