In Brannan v. Geico, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida explains how so-called “stacking” limits in auto and other insurance policies can limit the money an insured gets from his or her insurance company following an accident.
Mr. Brannan was injured in an October 2010 Florida motorcycle accident in which the driver at fault for the crash was uninsured. He held two insurance policies with Geico at the time of the accident: a motorcycle insurance policy and an automobile insurance policy for three cars. Although the company offered to pay him the $10,000 limit of uninsured motorist benefits available under the motorcycle policy, Brannan argued that he was entitled to an additional $300,000, representing the full amount of UM benefits available under his separate automobile policy.
Brannan sued Geico for breach of the insurance policies, claiming that he was entitled to “stacked” UM coverage combined under the two policies. In response, the company argued that the auto policy’s terms made clear that it didn’t cover the motorcycle. The District Court sided with Geico. “Insurance contracts are construed in accordance with the plain language of the policies as bargained for by the parties,” the Court explained, citing the Florida Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Prudential v. Swindal. “This Court may not rewrite a contract of insurance, extending the coverage afforded beyond that plainly set forth in the insurance contract.”
In this case, the court said Brannan expressly rejected the option to be able to stack UM benefits under the two different policies. While UM coverages automatically stack for each premium under Florida law, insurance companies are also permitted to include a “non-stacking” provision in a policy. The court explained that Brannan signed a “non-stacking” agreement when he executed the insurance policy documents. In exchange for a reduced premium, the agreement provided that Brannan agreed that he would be limited to the coverage for the vehicle involved (the motorcycle, in this case) in the event of an accident. “These coverage exclusions plainly bar coverage under the Auto Policy for Plaintiff’s motorcycle accident,” the court ruled.
The court also rejected Brannan’s claim that Geico was negligent by failing to clearly inform him about the limits on stacking under the policy. State law provides a conclusive presumption that a person who signs a form limiting his coverage under an insurance policy has made an “informed, knowing acceptance” of such limits. That presumption can’t be overturned by the person’s later testimony that he didn’t read the form before signing it, according to the court.
As a result, the court granted Geico’s motion for summary judgment.
This case is just one example of the intricacies, technicalities and legal issues that can arise in dealing with an insurance company after an accident. If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Florida, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. From offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Coral Springs, Hialeah and Pompano Beach. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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