Car Accidents Caused by Underinsured Motorists in North Carolina

Insurance issues can come up in car accident cases in North Carolina. If your car is hit by someone who is underinsured or uninsured, or a hit and run driver, you may have to turn to your own uninsured motorist coverage. However, this means that you may have an adversarial relationship with your own insurance company.

In Bacon v. Universal Insurance Company, a North Carolina appellate court considered whether a driver’s insurance policy provided him with underinsured motorist coverage. The case arose when the insurer issued an auto insurance policy to the plaintiff, expressly providing liability coverage, as well as medical and uninsured motorist coverage from 2010-2011. The policy included an uninsured motorist coverage endorsement.

In 2011, during the policy period, the plaintiff was seriously hurt in a car accident in which the other driver was found at fault. The other driver’s insurance carrier paid the plaintiff $50,000, which was the full liability coverage available for the claim. After that, the plaintiff submitted an underinsured motorist claim to his own insurer on the ground that the other driver’s insurance was an underinsured motor vehicle under the policy terms. His insurer denied his underinsured motorist claim.

He filed a lawsuit against his insurer, asking for (among other things) a declaratory judgment that the policy provided him with underinsured motorist coverage in the amount of $1 million per person in connection with the accident. The insurer denied the allegations and counterclaimed, asking the court to find it was not obligated. The plaintiff moved for judgment on the pleadings, and the insurer filed a cross motion. The judge granted the insurer’s cross motion and dismissed the plaintiff’s lawsuit with prejudice.

The plaintiff appealed. The appellate court explained that a declaratory judgment could be resolved on the pleadings if all the material factual allegations are admitted, and there are only legal questions. The plaintiff argued that the uninsured motorist endorsement in the policy also provided underinsured motorist coverage equal to the limit of liability coverage.

The appellate court explained that North Carolina’s Motor Vehicle Safety and Financial Responsibility Act states that at a minimum, a policy of liability insurance needs to insure the insured for at least $30,000 for bodily injury. It must also provide uninsured motor vehicle coverage equal to the highest limits of the bodily injury liability coverage it provides, but not more than $1 million. Any policy that exceeds the statutory minimum of $30,000 must also provide underinsured motorist coverage.

The appellate court explained that the insurance policy purchased by the plaintiff provided $1 million in liability coverage per accident, $50,000 per person, and $100,000 per accident. The issue was whether the policy provided $50,000 or $1 million in underinsured motorist coverage. The court explained that if an insured chooses a greater amount of uninsured motorist coverage than his bodily injury liability limits, he receives the same amount of uninsured motorist coverage as the uninsured motorist coverage amount he chose. It concluded that the policy provided the plaintiff with $50,000 in uninsured motorist coverage, rather than $1 million.

The other issue was whether the other driver’s vehicle was correctly classified as an underinsured motor vehicle. The court found that the vehicle was not an underinsured motor vehicle, since the coverage for the other driver’s vehicle was, like the plaintiff’s own liability coverage, $50,000 per person. This amount had been paid. The trial court’s judgment was affirmed.

If you were hurt in a car accident involving an uninsured or underinsured driver, Maurer Law may be able to help you. Contact us at 888-258-1087 or via our online form for a consultation.

More Blog Posts You Might Be Interested In:

Vicarious Liability in a North Carolina Trucking Accident

Intervening Negligence by a Plaintiff Motorcyclist in North Carolina

Wrongful Death and Contributory Negligence in North Carolina

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