Anti-Stacking Applied to Courts’ Interpretations of Underinsured Motorist Coverage
West Virginia automobile insurance companies can include anti-stacking provisions in their coverage for underinsured motorists (UIM), which West Virginia law requires all drivers to purchase. But when there is more than one car or more than one driver involved in a collision, a claimant cannot add everything together (stack the claim) and receive more than the claim limit stated in the policy for UIM coverage.
The Supreme Court of West Virginia has interpreted the state’s anti-stacking standards as requiring an insurance policy to contain clear language that expressly states the limits of the insurer’s liability. In other words, the policy must clearly communicate to the policyholder the maximum amount of benefits provided under its UIM coverage no matter how many underinsured motorists or vehicles are involved.
A Jackson County resident whose son was killed while a passenger in a car covered under an UIM insurance policy filed suit against the driver’s insurance carrier. Because the accident involved two cars colliding, each driven by an underinsured motorist found to be negligent, the claim filed by the decedent’s father as administrator of his son’s estate sought UIM benefits that were twice the policy limit of $20,000, and the court ordered the carrier to pay that amount.
The insurance carrier appealed the decision, claiming that the trial court misinterpreted the language of its UIM policy. The carrier argued that the policy’s language made it clear that the unambiguously stated UIM limit was $20,000 per “each person” and $40,000 per “each occurrence” and applied to each person who suffered bodily injury or property damage, not each person involved in the collision.
The carrier stressed in its appeal that the policy language makes it clear that this limit applies regardless of how many autos or underinsured motorists were involved in the collision. The Supreme Court of West Virginia overturned the trial court’s decision and ruled that the claimant, by being provided double the policy limit, was receiving benefits for which he neither contracted nor paid.
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