A foreign exchange student, a passenger seriously injured in a car accident that killed two motorcyclists, is covered by under her host family’s uninsured/ underinsured auto insurance policy. That was the recent ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court in Serra v. Estate of Broughton, which reversed a decision by the trial court and affirmation from an appeals court.
The court was asked whether the exchange student plaintiff was a “ward” of the insured, the woman who was hosting her stay in the last year of her high school education. The court decided that yes, she was.
According to court records of the case, the high school student was a passenger in a vehicle driven by her 19-year-old friend with three other passengers in the vehicle. Meanwhile,a 36-year-old motorcyclist, with a 35-year-old female passenger on the rear of the bike, was traveling the wrong way on the highway. The bike collided with the 19-year-old’s sports utility vehicle. The two on the motorcycle were killed. The teen driver was transported to a local hospital in stable condition. The other 19-year-old passenger refused medical treatment at the scene. A 16-year-old suffered minor injuries, as did an 18-year-old passenger. Meanwhile, plaintiff suffered severe injuries and was transported via helicopter to a nearby hospital. Her recovery has been ongoing since.
As her medical bills mounted, she sought recovery of medical expense and UM/ UIM compensation from her host’s auto insurance company. The insurer denied the claim. Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the estate of the motorcyclist, the teen driver and her host parents’ insurer. Trial court granted a summary judgment to insurer defendant, a decision which was affirmed by appeals court.
The insurer argued plaintiff was not covered under the policy, which described an insured as “You (policyholder) or resident relatives’ under both the “Medical Payments Coverage” and “Uninsured Motor Vehicle Coverage” of the policy. The policy went on to describe that a “resident relative” could include not only blood relations, but also, “a word or foster child of the named insured.” The question was whether plaintiff was a “ward” for purposes of the policy.
The lower courts had ruled that while plaintiff did live with insured, she clearly wasn’t a foster child, but she wasn’t a “ward” either.
The term “ward” isn’t described in the policy, but drawing from previous case law, the courts determined the statutory definition is, “A person over whom a guardian is appointed and a person over whose property a guardian or conservator is appointed is called a ward.” Prior case law had held that the term “ward” is to be construed most favorably toward the plaintiff unless the policy specifies that it implies some formal status conferred by legal appointment.
Here, because the term wasn’t defined in the policy, the state supreme court opted to use the non-technical definition, which essentially extends the title to anyone who is “under the care and protection of the insured.” As a foreign exchange student, plaintiff in this case fit that profile, and was thus entitled to UM/ UIM benefits for injuries sustained in this car accident.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Serra v. Estate of Broughton, Dec. 8, 2015, Oklahoma Supreme Court
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Caitlyn Jenner Lawsuit and the Rebuttable Presumption of Rear-End Collisions, Dec. 14, 2015, Miami Car Accident Lawyer Blog