/rueziffra.com/Allan Ziffra Auto Accident Attorney/ 07/02/2009
In order to avoid being left without any compensation when and if an uninsured driver causes harm or damage to you or your property, it is highly recommended that you purchase underinsured/uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for you and your family. Underinsured motorists are the group of individuals that, though they possess the legally required minimum amount of insurance, they do not have the variety or amount of coverage necessary to provide compensation in the event such underinsured party is at fault in an auto accident. Whereas uninsured motorists include those individuals who either did not have any insurance at all, had insurance that failed to meet the state mandated minimum requirements, or whose insurance company rejected the claim or was not financially capable of satisfying the claim. “Ghost” or “phantom” drivers (most often found in cases of hit-and-run accidents) likewise fall into the category of an uninsured motorist for the purposes of insurance coverage.
Understanding which groups of drivers fall into the underinsured or uninsured categories is not terribly difficult. However, most persons are unclear as to which persons, vehicles and injuries are covered under the terms of a typical uninsured motorist policy. In order to ensure that your rights are well represented and your recovery is maximized to the fullest extent of the law, contact the experienced and knowledgeable automobile and motor vehicle accident attorneys at Rue & Ziffra, P.A.
Initially, in order to trigger the application of UM coverage, there must be a qualified uninsured motor vehicle involved in the accident. Next, of course, the individual claiming benefits under the UM policy must be a person covered. Specifically, the UM statute requires that benefits be provided under motor vehicle liability policies to “persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness, or disease, including death, resulting therefrom.” As you can imagine, the statutory definition has left open a considerable amount of wiggle room for both the plaintiff and defense bar to argue whether or not a particular person is covered.
Nearly forty years ago, the Florida Supreme Court separated potential insureds UM coverage into Class 1 insureds and Class 2 insureds in the seminal case of Mullis v. State Farm. Class 1 insureds were defined as the named insured, his/her spouse and resident relatives, regardless of the conditions, locations or circumstances surrounding the injury sustained. Whereas Class 2 insureds are any other persons occupying the named insured’s covered vehicle at the time of the accident with an uninsured motorist. Class 1 uninsured motorist coverage protects the family of the person who purchased and paid for the policy. Class 2 passengers do not pay for the UM coverage but receive its protection.
Whether a particular individual is a relative and thus entitled to Class 1 status requires that person to be related to the insured by blood, marriage or adoption. However, persons who have merely lived with and even been dependent upon the named insured are not Class 1 insureds. Also, relatives who maintain a separate residence likewise fail to classify as Class 1 insureds. Furthermore, there have been mixed results in regards to the meaning of “occupying” as it has been interpreted by Florida courts. Many insurance contracts define “occupying” as “in, upon, getting in, on, out, or off.” While Florida courts have generally found there to be coverage when a party is injured by an uninsured motorist while leaning against a covered vehicle, courts have not been willing to find coverage once the injured party begins to walk away from the covered vehicle as such party is said to have then undertaken a new activity.
Moreover, Florida courts have required for there to be some causal connection between the uninsured motor vehicle and the individual’s injuries. Again, the degree to which there must be a nexus between the motor vehicle and the harm sustained sufficient to establish coverage has been another topic for debate in our state’s appellate courts. The Florida Supreme Court has established a three-prong test to determine an insurer’s liability. First, the accident must have arisen out of an “inherent nature” of the vehicle. Second, the accident must have arisen within the natural territorial limits of an automobile and the actual use must not have terminated. Finally, the vehicle must not merely contribute to cause the condition which produces the injury; rather, the vehicle must itself produce the injury.
Issues of uninsured motorist coverage are often quite complex. Insurance companies are keenly aware that laypersons do not have the experience and knowledge necessary to navigate the intricate maze of convoluted language typically used in insurance policies. It is of the utmost importance that you hire a skilled and tenured attorney to protect your rights when and if you or a family member is involved in a motor vehicle accident involving an uninsured automobile. The law firm of Rue & Ziffra has dealt with both standard and novel issues of uninsured motorist coverage over the past three decades practicing exclusively personal injury law. In order to ensure that your rights are sufficiently represented, visit the Rue & Ziffra website at www.RueZiffra.com or speak to one of our helpful professionals directly by calling 1-800-526-4711.
Our legal team has made it our priority to help Florida families for more than twenty-five years. Contact our law offices today so that we can assist you.