Every day, hundreds of thousands of large trucks traverse state lines to deliver cargo. When one of these vehicle is involved in a crash, it can raise a host of jurisdictional questions. The trucker could be from one state and the trucking company from another, while the accident occurred in a third state. There are even cases that are further complicated when an injured party is from yet another state.
Tuscaloosa truck accident attorneys recognize that sorting through these jurisdictional issues is important not only for the purposes of deciding which court should hear them, as we recently discussed in the Alabama Supreme Court decision in Cruz v. J&W Enterprises, LLC. The question of jurisdiction can also have a great bearing on insurance issues.
Basically, each state has differing requirements on what kinds of insurance must be carried and paid out and by whom.
For example, Alabama is considered a “fault” state, as opposed to a “no-fault” state. This means that, when there is an auto accident, the determination of fault is critical in determining who will pay and how much. While those in “no-fault” states will file a claim with their own insurer, regardless of who is at fault, those in a “fault” state, like Alabama, will usually start with a claim against the other driver’s insurer and a personal injury lawsuit against the other driver.
Where Alabama requires a minimum of $25,000 insurance coverage for one person injured in a crash, other states may require more or less. The ultimate award for damages could be affected by the state that retains jurisdiction.
That brings us to Asklar v. Gilb. This was a case where a trucker, residing in Indiana and employed by a Georgia firm, was struck by the driver of another truck in West Virginia. The injured trucker’s rig was registered in Indiana.
He was seriously injured and subsequently sued the other driver, the driver’s employer, and his insurance company. He believed that his claim would exceed the underinsured motorist benefits provided by his own employer. The injured trucker’s insurance company said that it did offer a $5 million liability coverage but that the plaintiff’s company only paid for the $75,000 claim.
This was an important matter to settle before pursuit of the third-party claim because whatever amount was decided would offset the ultimate damages the at-fault driver, employer, or insurer would be required to pay if the victim won.
The trial applied Georgia law, which allows people to purchase underinsurance coverage in an amount lower than the liability policy limit. For that reason, in conjunction with evidence of the policy itself, the trial court ruled the underinsured motorist coverage limit was set at $75,000.
The plaintiff appealed, arguing that Indiana law, not Georgia law, should apply. Under Indiana law, the employer would have had to submit a written rejection of the higher underinsured motorist coverage for it to be valid. No such written rejection existed.
The appellate court ruled that Indiana law did apply because any vehicle that was registered and primarily stored in Indiana, as the plaintiff’s vehicle was, must comply with the state’s vehicle code. Still, the appellate court upheld the earlier ruling as being sufficient under state law to establish the lower coverage limits.
The case was submitted to the state supreme court for review. That court reversed on the basis that the question of whether the injured trucker’s employer had waived the higher liability limit was not a question of law but rather a question of fact. As such, it was best weighed at trial, not in summary judgment.
Asklar v. Gilb, May 29, 2014, Indiana Supreme Court
Alabama Truck Accident Case Heard by State Supreme Court, April 3, 2014, Tuscaloosa Truck Accident Lawyer Blog