A Milbank, S.D., woman whose parents were struck and killed while walking on a Watertown sidewalk on Sept. 1, 2001, is entitled to the maximum limits of an insurance policy’s underinsured coverage, the state Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.
The decision means Karen Nelson will get $117,806 from Farmers Mutual Insurance of Lincoln, Neb., instead of $17,806. The larger sum is the difference between the $82,194 earlier paid to Nelson by another insurance company and the $100,000 per person limit in Nelson’s policy.
Nelson’s parents, Verna Mae Gloe and Larry Gloe, had just left a cafe when they were struck by a van driven by Donald Huber of Sioux Falls, S.D. Huber, a narcoleptic who admitted he had not taken his medication, had a sleep attack. Narcoleptics can fall asleep without warning.
Nelson sought damages from Huber, but he was underinsured and she then submitted two claims to Farmers Mutual as part of her own underinsured motorist coverage. The firm, however, insisted that she could submit only one claim for the difference between the $100,000 limit for underinsured coverage and the amount Nelson had received earlier from Huber’s insurer.
Circuit Judge Ronald Roehr of Watertown sided with Nelson, and Farmers Mutual filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court.
Unanimously upholding Roehr, the justices said underinsurance coverage in Nelson’s policy provided maximum recovery of $100,000 for each person killed in an accident.
“Nelson was entitled to submit two separate claims because two people suffered bodily injury,” wrote Chief Justice David Gilbertson.
Farmers Mutual did not dispute that Nelson could collect for her parents’ deaths, and the Supreme Court said the public policy of allowing someone to recover damages as part of underinsurance coverage from injuries or deaths suffered by others is a question that must be addressed in the future.
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