Mo. Supreme Reverses $5.2M Award to Woman Who Caught STD in Boyfriend’s Car

By Jim Sams | January 12, 2023

The Missouri Supreme Court threw out a $5.2 million arbitration award to a woman who contracted a venereal disease while having sex with her boyfriend in his car and sought coverage for her “bodily injury” from the boyfriend’s auto insurer.

The high court ruled Tuesday that GEICO General Insurance Co. had a right to intervene in a lawsuit filed by the girlfriend, identified as “M.O.,” against its policyholder, identified as “M.B.” The Supreme Court vacated a Jackson County Circuit Court judgment that confirmed the arbitration award.

“GEICO was statutorily entitled to intervene in the pending lawsuit between M.O. and M.B. because GEICO filed the motion to intervene, prior to entry of judgment, and within the 30 days of notice,” the unanimous opinion says.

M.O. acknowledges that she contracted anogenital human papillomavirus (HPV) in late 2017 while having consensual, unprotected sex with M.B. in his 2014 Hyundai Genesis. She submitted a settlement offer to GEICO, saying that her boyfriend was negligent by not taking precautions and asking the insurer to pay its $1 million policy limit for her bodily injury claim.

GEICO refused. The insurer filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in Leavenworth, Kansas seeking a declaratory judgment that M.O’s. injury was not covered by the auto insurance policy, which specifically excludes coverage for communicable diseases or damages caused by “sexual molestation” or “physical or mental abuse.”

Court papers related to the GEICO lawsuit identify the boyfriend as Kansas resident Martin Brauner. He filed a counterclaim demanding that GEICO defend him against M.O.’s claim.

“GEICO has a sloppy insurance policy and bears the burden for the lack of clarity,” Brauner’s lawyer, Brian Niceswanger, argues in a motion for summary judgment. “Unlike most automobile liability policies, which requires injury arising out of the operation of a vehicle, here, the GEICO Auto Policy had no restriction and covers losses for ‘bodily injury’ period.”

GEICO also filed a motion for summary judgment. It’s attorney, Douglas Beck, said Brauner and M.O. were engaged to be married at the time she contracted HPV. The couple had “sexual activities in locations well beyond Brauner’s vehicle,” including M.O.’s house in Kansas City, Missouri, the filing says. M.O. filed a claim against her former fiancĂ© only after breaking off the engagement, GEICO contends.

The GEICO lawsuit has not yet been resolved. Brauner and M.O., however, reached an agreement whereby M.O. would submit her claim to arbitration but would seek recovery only from Brauner’s insurer.

An arbitrator awarded M.O. $5.2 million. M.O. then sued Brauner in Jackson County Circuit Court without informing GEICO. The insurer learned about the lawsuit in time to file a motion to intervene, but the Circuit Court confirmed the arbitration award before ruling on GEICO’s motion. The trial court sustained the insurer’s motion to intervene later, but by that time the arbitration award had already been approved.

GEICO appealed. The Western Missouri District of the Court of Appeals affirmed the Jackson County ruling. GEICO took the case to the Supreme Court.

The high court issued a four-page ruling on Tuesday that reversed the lower courts. GEICO had filed a timely motion to intervene but the Jackson County court ruled before hearing the insurer’s arguments, the opinion says.

“GEICO had a right to intervene before judgment because it filed its motion to intervene prior to entry of judgment,” the court said.

The Supreme Court remanded the case to Jackson County. That ruling doesn’t resolve the dispute, but gives GEICO a chance to make its arguments about coverage when the Jackson County judge reconsiders whether to confirm the arbitration award.

Top photo: The interior of a Hyundai Genesis is shown. Photo is for illustrative purposes only.

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