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Uninsured motorist coverage: the case of the cardboard box

To understand how uninsured motorist coverage works, readers in Pottsville will want to take a close look at their own polices. Uninsured motorist coverage applies when there is a causal link between an uninsured vehicle and a policy holder's injury. Insurance companies tend to have a narrow interpretation of this causal link. With that in mind, Pennsylvania residents may be interested in a recent case that pertains directly to uninsured motorist coverage.

The case involved an auto accident that left a Pennsylvania man seriously injured. He was driving his pickup truck on a country road when he approached a cardboard box that had fallen off another vehicle. The box was in the middle of the road, and the man swerved his truck to avoid a collision. An accident followed, and the man filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits.

The man's claim argued that because the box had fallen off an unidentified vehicle, the vehicle was therefore uninsured. Allstate, the man's insurer, went along with that logic, but only up to a point. The insurance company dismissed the man's claim, stating that the cardboard box caused the injury and not the uninsured vehicle. The causal connection was too weak between the man's injuries and the vehicle from which the box had fallen, or so claimed Allstate.

The trial court that heard the case ruled in favor of the insurer, but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recently reversed that initial decision. The appeals court focused on the chain of causation in the accident. It was decided that the injured man should receive uninsured motorist benefits because his injuries arose out of the use of an uninsured vehicle. The "arising out of" language in the insurance policy was central to the court's ruling.

This particular case illustrates some of the challenges injured parties can face when insurance companies deny a claim for benefits. Pennsylvania residents who are confronting a similar situation should be aware of their rights under our state's personal injury laws.

Source: Claims Journal, "Third Circuit Interprets 'Arising Out Of' Clause for UM Benefits Broadly," Burke Coleman, June 6, 2012

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