N.C. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hebert
|Attorney for the Case
|Preston W. Lesley
|Amicus Brief Writers
|Jon Ward Paul Coates Doug Maynard
|NC Supreme Court
Defendant-Claimant sustained injury as a passenger in his own vehicle in a motor vehicle collision which killed two other passengers in the same vehicle and injured the driver of another vehicle. Liability coverage of $100,000 per accident on Defendant-Claimant’s vehicle was exhausted with Claimant receiving $100.00. Claimant also qualified as an insured under UIM coverage of his parents’ policy, which had 100/300 limits. Plaintiff NCFB filed declaratory action seeking an order that UIM coverage under Claimant’s policy did not apply because it was not an “underinsured vehicle,” and that the “multiple claimant exception” under his parents’ policy did not apply because the Claimant’s vehicle was not insured under the liability coverage of his parents’ policy. NCFB argued the only additional coverage available to Plaintiff was $99,900 under his parents’ UIM policy ($100,000/person coverage less the $100 received from liability coverage). NCFB moved for Judgment on the Pleadings, which the trial court denied. Trial court held Claimant’s policy provided UIM coverage, available for stacking.
NCFB appealed, contending the “multiple claimant exception” of G.S. § 20-279.21(b)(4) prevented Claimant’s vehicle from being considered an “underinsured motor vehicle” because the UIM limits were the same as the liability limits under Claimant’s policy.
A divided panel of the Court of appeals affirmed. The Court of Appeals began its analysis by asserting it has historically declined to construe the “multiple claimant exception” in a way that would reduce compensation to injured victims. Rather, all available UIM insurance should be stacked (including that of Claimant’s parents’ policy in this circumstance) to determine if a motor vehicle is “underinsured” under the Financial Responsibility Act. With this “stacking” principle in mind, and in reliance on the COA’s prior decision in Nationwide Affinity Ins. Co. of America v. Le Bei, 259 N.C. App. 626, 816 S.E.2d 251 (2018), the COA determined Claimant was entitled to UIM coverage under his own policy.
On appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina, NCAJ filed an amicus brief arguing that the language of the UIM statute itself, recent precedent (including Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Lunsford, 378 N.C. 181, 861 S.E.2d 705 (2021)) and legislative action (or inaction) relative to said prior precedent all mandate that stacking is permissible in this context, and that the Court of Appeals should be affirmed.