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8th Circuit Denies UIM Coverage Again Based Upon Mo. Supreme Court Decision in Rodriguez v. General Accident Insurance Company

For a third time in four years, the 8th Circuit has denied UIM coverage to an insured based upon the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez v. General Accident Insurance Company of America, 808 S.W.2d 379 (Mo. banc 1991).  In Amco Insurance Company v. Judith Williams, et al. (16-2723), the 8th Circuit affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment pursuant to Rodriguez despite the insured’s efforts to discredit the decision based upon contrary recent Missouri Court of Appeals decisions.

Kelly D. Williams died when her car was hit by Dylan A. Meyer’s vehicle. After settling with Meyer’s insurance company, Judith and Robert Williams submitted a claim for underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage.  AMCO Insurance Company sued, seeking a declaration of no coverage under Kelly’s auto policy. Both parties moved for summary judgment.

Meyer’s insurance had a limit of $250,000, which was paid to the Williamses. Because their damages exceed this amount, the Williamses sought $100,000 in UIM coverage under their auto policy with AMCO. The policy’s declarations page listed a UIM limit of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. The Underinsured Motorists Coverage–Missouri Endorsement defined “underinsured motor vehicle” as “a land motor vehicle or trailer of any type to which a bodily injury liability bond or policy applies at the time of the accident but its limit for bodily injury liability is less than the limit of liability for this coverage.”

The Williamses moved for summary judgment, arguing the policy was ambiguous and provided UIM coverage. AMCO cross-moved, asserting no coverage because Meyer’s vehicle was not an “underinsured motor vehicle.” Relying on the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision in Rodriguez, the district court granted summary judgment for AMCO and the Williamses appealed.

In Rodriguez, the tortfeasor’s vehicle had a $50,000 liability policy.  After collecting the $50,000, the insured sought the balance of damages under her policy’s UIM coverage which had a $50,000 limit per vehicle. The company declined, emphasizing the policy’s definition of “underinsured motor vehicle.” The insured sued, claiming the policy was ambiguous and must be construed in favor of coverage.

The Missouri Supreme Court rejected the insured’s arguments, finding the “contract between [the company] and the [insured] clearly states that an underinsured motor vehicle is a vehicle whose limits for bodily injury liability are ‘less than the limit of liability for this coverage.’”  The court held, “[s]ince [the tortfeasor’s] coverage is equal to the limit of liability under the [insured’s] policy, [the tortfeasor] was not an underinsured motorist as defined by the [] policy.”

Among their many arguments, the Williamses attempted to discredit Rodriguez, despite conceding it was “the only Missouri Supreme Court case that directly addresses the definition of “underinsured motor vehicle” at issue here, and that it has not been overruled by the Supreme Court despite “numerous opportunities to revisit” it.  Rather, they argued that numerous cases since Rodriguez have considered policies defining an “underinsured motor vehicle” as one with liability limits less than the insured’s UIM limits, yet because of ambiguities in the policies, the insureds were entitled to collect the UIM coverage even though they had collected the same amount as or limits greater than the UIM coverage from the tortfeasor.  However, the 8th Circuit noted that the cases cited by the Williamses were all Missouri Court of Appeals decisions, which it was not bound to follow.  Rather, the Court is “bound by the decisions of the Missouri Supreme Court regarding issues of substantive state law” such as Rodriguez.

The definition of “underinsured motor vehicle” in Rodriguez was identical to the definition in the Williamses’ policy with AMCO and 8th Circuit found that the same analysis applied in affirming the district court’s grant of summary judgment.  This marks the third time the 8th Circuit has relied on Rodriguez to find similar UIM provisions unambiguous. See Burger v. Allied Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 822 F.3d 445 (8th Cir. 2016) and Owners Ins. Co. v. Hughes, 712 F.3d 392 (8th Cir. 2013).