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When Am I Entitled to Uninsured Motorist Benefits Following an Accident?

Uninsured motorist coverage provides benefits if you are injured in a car accident with another at-fault driver who lacks sufficient insurance. Most states, including Tennessee, require automobile insurance companies to offer a certain level of uninsured motorist coverage. But there are still many cases where the scope of uninsured motorist coverage may be unclear, and insurance companies are always looking to exploit such uncertainty to deny benefits.

Insurer Ordered to Cover Employee’s Accident

Here is a recent illustration from a Tennessee Court of Appeals decision. In this case, the plaintiff was driving his wife’s car in Tennessee while carrying out a work-related task for his employer. A drunk driver subsequently hit the plaintiff’s car, causing significant and permanent injuries to the plaintiff, who required multiple surgeries and ongoing rehabilitation.

The drunk driver, who died in the accident, did not have insurance. The plaintiff therefore served his personal injury lawsuit on his employer’s uninsured motorist carrier. The employer held a “Business Automobile Policy” with nationwide coverage, including uninsured motorist coverage for all 50 states. The policy featured an additional endorsement covering “any ’employee’ of yours … while using a covered ‘auto’ you don’t own, hire or borrow in your business or your personal affairs.” The plaintiff argued this applied to his situation, as he was driving his wife’s car—i.e., an auto not owned by the employer—while “on or about the business of his employer.” The insurer argued this endorsement only applied to liability, not uninsured motorist coverage. Accordingly, the insurer moved for summary judgment.

Both the trial court and the Court of Appeals, however, agreed with the plaintiff. As the Court of Appeals explained, although this case involves a car accident that occurred in Tennessee, the interpretation of the insurance policy is governed by Texas law. (The car the plaintiff was driving was lodged and registered in Texas.) And as the Texas courts have held, if an auto insurance policy covers liability, it is also presumed to cover injuries caused by an uninsured or underinsured motorist unless the insured party expressly rejects such coverage in writing. As the insurer here conceded the plaintiff was covered for “liability” when driving his wife’s car for work purposes, the Court of Appeals said he was also entitled to uninsured motorist benefits.

Like Texas, Tennessee also requires auto insurers to offer uninsured motorist coverage with every policy. In Tennessee, such coverage must equal the amount of liability coverage in the policy, which must be at least $25,000 for bodily injury, $50,000 for bodily injury when two or more people are hurt, and $15,000 for property damage. The customer has the option of purchasing a lower amount of uninsured motorist coverage or rejecting such protection altogether.

Need Help from a Personal Injury Lawyer?

Insurance companies rarely hesitate to deny coverage when they think there are legal grounds for doing so. That is why you need an experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer to help fight for any benefits you are rightly entitled to. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, in Clinton or Knoxville, if you need to speak with someone right away.

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