You have just been involved in a car accident. Someone else was driving, and you bring suit against them and several insurance companies that are involved. But who has the burden of proof to prove how much you should be able to recover from the insurance companies? In Louisiana, that burden is on the plaintiff. The plaintiff, when seeking a declaration of coverage under an insurance policy, has to prove that his or her claims are covered under the policy coverage and also has to establish all essential facts in order to recover.
How would this play out? Well, recently, this exact situation played out in Louisiana. A couple was riding in a car driven by another man. The man driving had rented the car from Houston, Texas, but the case was tried in Louisiana. At some point while driving the couple, the man lost control of the vehicle and ended up flipping the car twice. The couple suffered severe injuries from the accident and then filed suit.
Not only did the plaintiffs (the couple) file suit against the man driving, but they also filed suit against several insurance companies involved. Before actually bringing the case to trial, the couple tried to settle the case with a couple of the insurance companies, and the couple received checks in the full amount of the coverage under those insurance companies. However, it was not clear whether or not this was a full recovery. The plaintiffs also wanted to receive payment from the insurance company from the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage (UM coverage). During the time the parties were trying to decide if this was a complete settlement or not, the plaintiffs’ attorney went ahead and gave his clients the check. The defendants then filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that UM insurance coverage was not available. After several motions and cross motions, the trial court decided that UM coverage was not available to the plaintiffs and granted the motion of summary judgment in favor of the defendants.
When this case was brought to the appellate court, the court analyzed the case de novo (or as if the trial court had not already tried the case) and decided to affirm the trial court’s ruling. Why did they affirm the trial court’s ruling? This is primarily because the plaintiff has the burden of proving what he or she is owed under the insurance policy, and the plaintiffs in this case could not prove that they should be able to recover under UM coverage.
The reason that the plaintiffs could not prove that they should be able to recover under UM coverage is because of the plain language of the insurance coverage policy. Normally, summary judgment should only be granted if there is no reasonable interpretation of the policy, supported by evidence and the facts of the case, that would support granting coverage. This seems like a pretty lenient standard for the plaintiffs, but it still requires that the plaintiffs prove that there is a reasonable interpretation of the policy that does allow them to recover in the manner that they are seeking. And in this case there was not.
In the language of the policy, several clear definitions were given, and as long as the policy wording is clear, then the agreement has to be enforced as it is written. In this case, the policy language stated that in order to recover under UM coverage, the vehicle cannot be available for regular use. However, in this case, the rented vehicle was clearly available for regular use during the rental period, and the vehicle, therefore, could not be classified as underinsured. So the plaintiffs were not entitled to recover any more than they already had.
If you have been involved in a car accident, you want to make sure that you claim and recover the proper amount that is available to you under the various insurance policies involved in the case.
In order to make sure that you make a full recovery, call Berniard Law Firm at (504) 527-6225, and an attorney who is familiar with insurance policies and personal injury cases will be happy to help you.