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Ambiguous State Farm UM Coverage Allows Wife To Recover For Separate Emotional Distress Caused By Witnessing Husband’s Death

BrewingtonMrs. Brewington rode her motorcycle a little behind Mr. Brewington on State Highway 49 in California. An oncoming rider crossed the center line striking Mr. Brewington and ejecting him from his bike. Mrs. Brewington witnessed the collision, stopped and called for assistance. Mr. Brewington died on the way to the hospital with Mrs. Brewington by his side.

The negligent rider had no liability insurance. However, the Brewingtons had UM coverage with their motorcycle carrier State Farm in the amount of $250,000 per person / $500,000 per occurrence.

State Farm tendered policy limits on the wrongful death claim involving Mr. Brewington. However, Mrs. Brewington brought a claim of her own alleging that the oncoming driver had caused her emotional distress. State Farm denied the Mrs. Brewington’s emotional distress claim. The company said that emotional distress was not a “bodily injury” as defined by the UM policy even though she had treated for the symptoms of emotional distress via medication and treatment. Mrs. Brewington filed suit against State Farm in the case of Brewington v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 3:13-CV-0400-LRH-VPC slip op (D. Nev., filed Sept. 15, 2014)

On cross-motions for partial summary judgment, the court disagreed with State Farm’s arguments stating that the policy language regarding what constituted “bodily injury” was ambiguous. The court cited two cases in which the courts found identical language to be ambiguous. State Farm Mutual Auto Ins. Co. v. Connolly, 132 P.3d 1197 (Ariz. 2006) and Crabtree v. State Farm Ins. Co., 632 So. 2d 736, 744 (La. 1994).

State Farm also argued that the single “each person” limitation should apply to both of the Brewington’s claims because they both arose out one event, namely Mr. Brewington’s death. However, the court found the “each person” provision ambiguous as well. The court found the emotional distress claim to be separate from the wrongful death claim allowing Mrs. Brewington’s claim to proceed.

The opinion does not address the value of Mrs. Brewington’s injuries. And it does not address whether the company committed bad faith or violated the Unfair Claims Settlement Practices Act (NRS 686A.310) in the way it handled the claim.

If you have questions about UM coverage in Nevada, please contact Mike Mills at 702/240-6060×114. He will discuss the question with you.