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Florida Court Reverses Summary Judgment in Favor of Insurer Due to Ambiguous Policy Terms

December 09, 2019

by Donaldson & Weston

Car insurance is required in many states, including Florida, but the specific type of insurance required varies by state. While insurance is meant to provide benefits for harm caused by car accidents, it is not uncommon for an insurer to attempt to deny coverage based on the terms of the policy.

A Florida District Court of Appeals recently overruled a court order granting summary judgment in favor of an insurer, on the grounds that the terms of the clause the insurer relied upon in denying coverage were ambiguous. If you were injured in a South Florida car accident involving an uninsured driver, it is in your best to meet with an attorney who is proficient in dealing with insurance companies to assist you in seeking any benefits you may be owed.

Factual Background

Reportedly, the plaintiff’s parents obtained a policy of insurance with the defendant insurer, in which they insured three vehicles. The policy included uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury suffered in an auto accident with an uninsured motorist. The plaintiff was subsequently injured in an accident with an uninsured motorist while operating a motorcycle that was not an insured vehicle under the policy. The plaintiff, who was not a named insured, sought benefits under the policy on the grounds that the policy provided uninsured motorist coverage for family members. The defendant declined coverage based on exclusionary language, after which the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the defendant for benefits under the policy. The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The plaintiff then appealed.

Interpretation of an Insurance Policy

On appeal, the court reversed the trial court ruling. The subject exclusion barred uninsured motorist coverage for injuries sustained by an insured during the occupation of a vehicle owned by the insured. The court noted that the subject exclusion defined “owned” as having legal possession of an "auto". “Auto” was defined as a four-wheel passenger car, van, pickup or jeep. As such, the plaintiff argued that his motorcycle, which only had two wheels, did not qualify as a vehicle “owned” by an insured but not insured under the policy.

The court stated that policies of insurance are to be interpreted in accordance with their plain language. In cases where the terms of a policy can be interpreted in more than one way, the policy is ambiguous. Under Florida law, ambiguous policies are to be strictly construed against the insurer and in favor of the insured. In the subject case, the court found that the exclusion in question was ambiguous as to whether it applied to motorcycles. The court explained that while the common definitions of an “auto” or “motor vehicle” would include a motorcycle, the definitions set forth in the policy did not. Thus, the court reversed the judgment in favor of the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Consult a Skilled South Florida Car Accident Attorney Regarding Your Case

If you were injured in a South Florida car accident with an uninsured motorist, you should consult a skilled car accident attorney to develop a strategy for pursuing any compensation you may be owed. At Donaldson & Weston, our South Florida personal injury attorneys will work diligently to assist you in pursuing your claim.  We can be contacted at 772-266-5555 or 561-299-3999 to arrange a confidential and free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Florida Court Holds Policy Language Excludes UIM Coverage Benefits for Injuries Sustained by a Resident Relative in a Car Not Owned by the Insured, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, November 30, 2018