How much uninsured motorist (UM) coverage is an insurance company required to “stack”? Are they required to only stack state minimum, or full policy limits?
Automobile insurance policies typically include multiple “anti-stacking” provisions, which state that a person making a claim under the policy cannot claim more than single-vehicle policy limits.
For example, suppose Dale is hit by a car driven by Jane and insured by State Farm. Assume Jane has two vehicles, and each is insured for individual policy limits of $100,000. Jane’s State Farm policies probably include provisions stating that the insurance company is only liable to Dale for the sum of $100,000 except as required by law. It is common knowledge that Missouri law requires that that the insurance company “stack” Jane’s policies, and provide more than the $100,000 in coverage. In most circumstances, since this is a liability claim, the insurance company would be on the hook for the $100,000 plus an additional $25,000. The latter figure represents state minimum coverage. So on a non-UM liability claim (claimant alleges negligence on the part of the insured), the insurance company must stack state minimum coverage for each additional insured vehicle or policy.
However, what happens in the context of an uninsured motorist (UM) claim?
Say, for example, that Bill owns two vehicles, both of which are insured by Geico with individual UM limits of $100,000. Assume that an uninsured driver hits Bill. Geico is clearly required to make the first $100,000 available. Even though they may have some anti-stacking language, Missouri law will also clearly require that Geico make additional coverage available based on the second vehicle. But how much?
Geico may argue that its maximum coverage is $125,000. This represents full UM policy limits on the first vehicle, and state minimum coverage on the stacked policy. There is some case law to support this position. For example, Geico might rely on some of the following precedent:
(1) Blumer v. Auto. Club Inter-Ins. Ex., 340 S.W.3d 214 (Mo. 2011)
(2) American Standard Ins. Co. of Wis. v. Bracht, 103 S.W.2d 281 (Mo. App. S.D. 2003);
(3) Blum v. Allstate Ins. Co., 296 F.Supp.2d 1037 (Mo. App. E.D. 2003)
Blumer is the most compelling case of the bunch. In that case Blumer was injured while occupying a motorcycle that was not insured under any policy by the defendant in that case (AAA). The court in Blumer reduced the stacked coverage because of these facts and because of a valid owned-vehicle exclusion. This only provides limited applicability in many UM stacking cases because Blumer owed a vehicle that was not insured by AAA.
In Bracht, the claimant demanded both liability limits and UM limits, and the opinion relates to whether a liability setoff can be applied to UM benefits. So it will only have limited applicability.
Blum is also somewhat compelling. However, it is a federal case and is non-binding on state courts in Missouri. Almost all motor vehicle cases that occur in Missouri are able to be brought in state courts. If you’re stuck in federal court this case will severely impede your ability to stack more than state minimum coverage.
UM carriers may be required to stack full policy limits, not just state minimum limits.
Numerous cases in Missouri support the contention that stacked UM coverage will stack in the amounts stated in the policies, and that stacked coverage in this circumstance is not reduced to state minimum limits. For example:
In Adams v. King, et al., 356 S.W.3d 326 (Mo. App. S.D. 2011), the Court of Appeals considered whether an insurance company is required to stack only the state minimum, as opposed to full policy limits, on three UM policies. Specifically, three injured parties had requested policy a total of $200,000 on three policies with coverage limits of $25,000/$50,000 (policies #1 and #2) and $50,000/$100,000 (policy #3). The insurance carrier contended at trial that the injured parties were only entitled to stack state minimum coverage. Both the trial court and Court of Appeals rejected this argument and ordered/held that the insured parties were entitled to full stacked policy limits, not an amount that was reduced to state minimum coverage.
In Bauer, et ux. v. Farmers Insurance Company, 270 S.W.3d 491 (Mo. App. W.D. 2008), the Missouri Court of Appeals applied Missouri law and ordered that Farmers was required to stack policy limits of per person coverage of $100,000 from two separate UM policies. This resulted in coverage of $200,000 for the injured party as opposed to the sum of $125,000, which would have been available if the defendant had been able to reduce the stacked coverage to state minimum limits.
In Rice v. Shelter Mutual Insurance Company, 301 S.W.3d 43 (Mo. 2009), the Supreme Court of Missouri considered a case in which plaintiff Jason Rice was considered an insured under three UM policies issued to his parents. The first policy provided coverage of $100,000/$300,000, and the second and third policies also provided coverage of $250,000/$500,000. Rice demanded stacked policy limits of $600,000. Shelter declined to pay the demand and instead tendered payment of only stacked MVFRL minimum coverage of $75,000. The trial court granted Rice’s motion for summary judgment and awarded him $525,000 plus $34,952.05 in prejudgment interest. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Court of Missouri affirmed the trial court’s decision. The Supreme Court held that if all stated exclusions were given their plain meaning, “the insured would have received no perceivable value for the premiums paid for uninsured motorist coverage; and the appearance and reasonable expectation of having purchased Six Hundred Thousand Dollars of uninsured motors coverage would have been illusory.”
The Missouri Practice Series, Contracts, Equity and Statutory Handbook goes so far suggest that the opinion in Rice renders similar coverage reduction attempts illusory and contrary to public policy. When coverage limits for uninsured motor vehicle coverage exceed the statutory minimum, it may be argued that any reductions or conditions causing a reduction down to the statutory minimum are themselves void, not as contrary to R.S.Mo. 379.203, but as contrary to the general policy that coverage is not to be illusory. If an insured has paid a premium for additional coverage, and the effect of policy language is to eliminate the additional coverage, it may be that the language of limitation is invalid. See Rice v. Shelter Mut. Ins. Co., 301 S.W.3d 43 (Mo. 2009) (noting issue, but deciding case on policy language ambiguity).” 35 Mo. Prac., Cont., Eq. & State. Actions Handbook 19:10.
If an insurance company indicates that it will only make available state minimum limits on stacked UM policies, rather than making available full policy limits, said insurance company may be making less coverage available than what is required by Missouri law. While some case law supports the insurance company’s position, there has not been a definitive ruling on the issue by a state court in Missouri. In addition, there is a body of case law to support the position that UM carriers must make available full policy limits on stacked policies.
Caveat and Disclaimer
This article represents the current state of the law prior to January 1, 2017, and may have changed by the time you are reading this. Geico and State Farm are used as examples and this article in no way should suggest that those companies have any more or less liability than any other company such as Liberty Mutual, Farmers, USAA, etc. If you are not an attorney, you should never rely on things that you read on the internet in lieu of retaining an experienced attorney. If you have any questions on this or any other matter please don’t hesitate to call our office at (314) 725-4400.