Mendota Insurance v. Lawson – Fighting for Insurance Coverage of Wrongful Death

Mendota Insurance v. Lawson – Fighting for Insurance Coverage of Wrongful Death

Insurance companies are notorious for fighting accident victims at every turn when it comes to coverage for injuries sustained in a crash.


Policies are carefully written so as to limit the potential liability to cover the customers who faithfully pay their premiums each month.

The recent case of Mendota Insurance Co. v. Lawson, before the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, is no different. In this case, a mother and wife lost both her son and husband in a horrible, single-vehicle crash. She sought recovery from the personal estate of her husband (as managed by another relative) for negligence in causing her son’s death.

According to court records, the crash happened in June 2012 when plaintiff’s husband was driving a Chevrolet pickup truck, which belonged to him. He lost control of the vehicle, struck a ditch and overturned. Both men were killed.

After filing a wrongful death lawsuit against her husband’s estate, she secured a judgment of more than $3 million, after it was determined the driver’s negligent actions caused the death of his step-son.

There were two insurance companies at issue in this action. One was Progressive, which covered plaintiff’s two vehicles. That policy provided liability coverage of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per occurrence for those two vehicles. Although neither of those vehicles was involved in the crash, plaintiff’s son was covered under her policy. All matters regarding that insurer were settled out-of-court.

However, the second insurance company, defendant in this action, was held by the husband/driver and covered the Chevrolet truck involved in the accident.

Insurer sought a declaratory judgment of its rights under the policy. Specifically, it wanted the court to state the policy did not cover any wrongful death claims, that exclusions of the policy were valid and enforceable, and that it owed no duty to defend or indemnify the personal representative of the driver/insured’s estate.

Plaintiff counter-claimed against insurer for bad faith failure to defend the personal representative in the action that led to the $3 million judgment. She argued the insurer agreed to defend the personal representative under the policy’s reservation of rights and that the company was obligated based on the policy language to cover damages resulting from its breach of the duty to defend and provide coverage.

Trial court ruled in favor of the insurer, and plaintiff (along with personal representative of the estate) appealed.

The issue here was an interpretation of the insurance policy. Typically, any ambiguity in an auto insurance policy will result in a finding favorable to the injured. However, a mere disagreement about the language of the policy doesn’t necessarily mean there is ambiguity.

Here, the insurer argued that because the truck wasn’t listed in the decedent driver’s declarations, it wasn’t a “covered auto” for purposes of insurance coverage. However, plaintiff’s argued the vehicle met the broader definition of “covered auto” under the terms.

Courts have held it’s the insured who bears the burden of proving coverage, but in general, insurance is a contract to provide coverage, so if it’s reasonable to conclude coverage, it should be provided.

Here, although the Chevrolet truck wasn’t listed in the declarations page, the policy did state it would allow coverage for “any auto,” which the court ruled would necessarily include the truck. In interpreting the policy as reasonably possible to provide coverage – particularly given the insurance industry’s custom to provide some liability coverage for vehicles not included in the declarations page – the appellate court ruled the vehicle was covered. However, a clearly stated exclusion within the policy negated this coverage, and plaintiff failed to overcome this assertion.

So although she secured a $3 million wrongful death judgment, if that money is not in the estate coffers, it’s not likely she will see much of it.

This case shows why it is imperative to have an experienced personal injury attorney handling yourpersonal injury lawsuit. The language of insurance policies can be confusing and open to interpretation, which means the person representing you needs to know the law and the best way to assert your claim for coverage.

Additional Resources:
Mendota Insurance Co. v. Lawson, March 24, 2015, Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District

More Blog Entries:
Zeller v. Scafe – Missouri Dram Shop Remedies in Drunk Driving Cases, March 30, 2015, St. Louis Car Accident Attorney 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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