South Carolina Court Finds That Excluded Driver Endorsement on UIM Policy Meant No Coverage in Fatal Crash

One of the most important types of insurance that is available to South Carolina vehicle owners is uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. When such a policy of insurance is in place, it protects the insured individual in the event of a serious injury collision caused by someone who doesn’t have automobile accident insurance or who has only minimum policy limits.

Unfortunately, insurance companies resist paying uninsured/underinsured motorist claims whenever they can. Sometimes, the denial of coverage is held to be valid by a court, but, other times, it is not. Ultimately, it is up to a judge to decide whether the coverage is applicable given the particular set of facts presented by a given case. If you have sustained injuries in a car crash and wonder whether the driver at fault is either uninsured or underinsured, it is worth your time meeting with a South Carolina car accident attorney as soon as possible.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in the Greenville County Circuit Court, the plaintiff was an insurance company that sought a declaratory judgment as to whether underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage existed under an automobile insurance policy taken out by the defendant, who was the wife and personal representative of the estate of a man who died in a 2016 motorcycle accident caused by another driver. The defendant applied for the policy in 2014, about a year and half prior to her marriage to the decedent. At the time of the application, the defendant completed an “excluded driver endorsement” and listed the decedent as someone who was excluded from coverage under the policy.

The insurance company filed a motion for summary judgment on its declaratory judgment action. The defendant filed a cross motion, urging that she was entitled to summary judgment because the insurer’s policy  and its excluded driver endorsement violated South Carolina public policy. The circuit court granted summary judgment to the insurance company, and the defendant appealed.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals’ Decision

The appellate court affirmed the lower court’s ruling, first noting that the purpose of summary judgment was to expedite the disposition of cases that did not require a finder-of-fact in order to be adjudicated. The case at bar being a contractual dispute between an insured and an insurer, the court found that summary judgment would be appropriate if there were no genuine issues of material fact. In reviewing the arguments of the parties, the court acknowledged that the defendant maintained that S.C. Code § 38-77-340 contemplated only an exclusion from liability coverage, not UIM coverage. However, in the court’s opinion, interpreting the statute in the manner urged by the defendant would have forced a construction of the statute that was not intended by the South Carolina General Assembly. Rather, the words of the statute were to be given their plain and ordinary meaning.

When viewed in this manner, § 38-77-340 merely empowered consumers to choose to limit their coverage – and hence to lower their insurance premiums – within the confines of the applicable statutory constraints. In the court’s view, the defendant had exercised her rights under the statute, thereby paying a lower premium in all likelihood. This achieved the purpose sought by the legislature in enacting the statute. Thus, the court concluded that the driver endorsement should be held to be valid. Because it excluded the decedent from coverage under the defendant’s UIM policy, the trial court had correctly entered summary judgment to the insurance company in its declaratory judgment action.

Hire an Experienced South Carolina Car Accident Attorney

To talk to a knowledgeable South Carolina car accident attorney in Greenville or Spartanburg about an uninsured/underinsured motorist-related crash, call the Patrick E. Knie Law Offices at 864-582-5118 to schedule an appointment. The consultation is free, so please do not put off seeking legal advice about your claim.

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