Uninsured motorist (UM) liability coverage is additional coverage that can pay for injuries to individuals protected under your policy, including family members in other cars and passengers in your insured cars, resulting from a car accident caused by an uninsured driver. However, this additional coverage can be modified or inapplicable if the insured decides to reject coverage, select lower limits, or select economic-only coverage, which would only cover costs, not non-monetary damages, such as pain and suffering or quality of life damages. UM coverage is also part of most businesses insurance policies. All of these options allow for insurance policies to be flexible, and whatever a policy stipulates is what it will cover, but as a case that arose in the Parish of St. Landry shows, writing and reading an insurance policy isn’t always straight-forward.
In October of 2011, Crystal Bell was driving a company car, owned by Compass Behavioral Center for Crowley, when she was rear-ended by Merlyn Rodgers. Crystal Bell and the occupants of her vehicle filed a lawsuit against Merlyn Rodgers and her insurance company. After filing the lawsuit, the plaintiffs amended their complaint by naming Compass’ insurance company, Progressive Insurance Company, as a defendant in order to claim UM coverage.
Prior to the accident, in 2007, a Compass representative, Mark Cullen, had signed a CSL automobile insurance policy with Progressive for $1 million in liability coverage. A CSL policy sets a predetermined limit for the combined total of the Bodily Injury Liability coverage and Property Damage Liability coverage per occurrence or accident. Under Louisiana law, UM coverage must be applied through an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury Coverage form, which is issued by the Commissioner of Insurance. La. R.S. 22:1295. This form, however, lacked a space for addressing CSL policies. So, Cullen initialed the box that stated he selected UM coverage but wrote in “$100,000” for coverage and marked out “each person” and wrote in “CSL.” Cullen did this even though the form indicated that it may not be altered or modified. Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment and asked that the district court rule that the policy in place at the time of the accident was only for $100,000. The plaintiffs’ filed a counter-motion for summary judgment. The plaintiffs argued that Compass’ UM form was invalid and therefore UM coverage provided for $1 million in coverage. Alternatively, plaintiffs argued that if the UM coverage form was valid, then it was for $100,000 per person as opposed to only $100,000 for each CSL accident.