Estate of Deceased Man Succeeds on Uninsured Motorist Claim
While cutting the grass at his Goshen home in August 2010, Brian L. Harris was struck and killed by Noel M. Sparks, who was driving a 1974 Chevrolet truck he had borrowed from Brent and Jamie Stouder. At the time of the accident, Sparks was driving on a suspended license, so he was deemed to be an uninsured motorist. Harris had a commercial auto insurance policy with Erie insurance through his job at the time of the accident. The policy contained an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage Endorsement that supplied coverage limits of $1 million per accident but never mentioned Harris by name, and was listed as a “scheduled driver.”
After his death, Harris’ estate submitted a claim to Erie for damages for bodily injury under the policy’s uninsured motorist coverage. Erie denied the claim, asserting Harris did not meet the definition as a named insured as defined by the policy and that he was not using or occupying a vehicle insured by the policy at the time of his death.
Harris’ estate then filed a complaint for damages and declaratory judgment in the Elkhart Superior Court, alleging negligent operation of a motor vehicle by Sparks and negligent entrustment by the Stouders and seeking declaratory judgment as to whether the UM coverage covered the damages suffered by Harris’ estate.
Erie filed a counterclaim and a motion for summary judgment on the declaratory judgment count, but the trial court granted the estate’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The trial court ruled that Harris’ estate was able to recover under the uninsured motorist coverage but did not address the damages issue. Erie then appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals.
The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, with the Court writing that the uninsured motorist policy states it applies to bodily injury to “you or others we protect,” which while vague, applied to Harris. Specifically, the phrase “others we protect” is not expressly defined in the policy and is open to interpretation. Thus, the Court ruled that Harris falls within the class of “others we protect,” so the estate can recover UM damages in its wrongful death suit. Additionally, the policy can also apply to Harris as a pedestrian, the court held.