Harris v. Haynes – When UM Coverage and Workers’ Compensation Collide

Harris v. Haynes – When UM Coverage and Workers’ Compensation Collide

A person who is injured in a motor vehicle accident while on the job may be entitled to compensation under both workers’ compensation law as well as a policy providing for uninsured motorist coverage. However, our St. Louis car accident attorneys recognize this raises numerous complex legal issues.

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It noteworthy that Missouri Workers’ Compensation Law, codified in Section 287.010 R.S.Mo. et seq., provides an exclusive remedy for employees against employers for those injuries covered by its provisions. Still, workers may be entitled to uninsured motorist coverage in certain situations. The issue is developing within the state courts, so there is no “gold standard,” but generally, the four possible sources of UM coverage for injured workers are:

    • Coverage from the injured party’s own personal auto insurance policy;
    • Coverage from the injured employee’s employer insurance policy;
    • The insurance policy of a co-employee (if he or she was at-fault);
    • Coverage from the partner of an injured employee.

But any worker who accepts workers’ compensation coverage may in turn limit his or her ability to collect UM coverage, if it’s available under the circumstances. This is true regardless of whether the policy from which the worker is trying to collect was secured on his own or through his employer.

In the recent case of Harris v. Haynes, before the Tennessee Supreme Court, a public servant (a police officer) was precluded from collecting UM benefits because of his receipt of workers’ compensation benefits.

That case represents some special circumstances because the worker’s employer, a local government agency, had opted into an interlocal agreement “risk pool” amounting to a form of self-insurance that allowed it to skirt the laws for insurance carriers as it was not, technically, an insurance company.

The officer was on patrol when struck by an uninsured motorist and severely injured. Soon after, he collected workers’ compensation benefits. He filed a lawsuit against the driver and vehicle owner – both lacking insurance – and secured a $1.25 million judgment. He then filed a claim with the entity providing insurance to his employer, the “risk pool.” However, the entity denied coverage, citing a clause indicating if workers’ compensation collection was doled out to an employee, that worker was not eligible to receive UM benefits.

Of course, this kind of reasoning might not be acceptable for a traditional insurance company, but the courts allowed it because the trust was considered a form of self-insurance.

Still, such coverage isn’t a given even if it is provided by a traditional insurer. Take, for example, the 2000 case of Thompson v. Schlecter, before the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District. There, a worker was injured while driving a truck owned by his employer. The at-fault driver who rear-ended him was a co-employee. The injured worker then made a claim against the UM policy of his employer. The court denied coverage on the basis that the effect would nullify the fellow employee exclusion from liability coverage and grant protection to the insured for which he did not pay.

The purpose of the exclusion (written into many corporate auto insurance policies) is to separate the company’s liability to workers from liability to the general public. If a company were to be required to pay both workers’ compensation benefits and UM benefits, the appellate court ruled, it would be “onerous.”

That doesn’t mean an injured worker can never collect both types of benefits. However, because the assertion of one might necessarily impact the other, it’s best to consult with an experienced lawyer before deciding how to best proceed.

Additional Resources:
Harris v. Haynes, Aug. 26, 2014, Tennessee Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Floyd-Tunnell v. Shelter Mutual Ins. – UM Coverage in Missouri, Partial Exclusions and Stacked Coverage, Aug. 30, 2014, St. Louis Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC

Ryan R. Cox & Associates, LLC is a litigation law firm that represents individuals and families in serious personal injury and wrongful death claims throughout Missouri. We help people who have been injured in all types of accidents—including car or truck accidents, motorcycle accidents, slip and fall accidents, and much more. Whether your injury is something that can cause long-term issues like a brain injury or spinal cord injury, or it is something you’ll likely make a full recovery from, we are here to help.

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