One of the recurring questions that arise in personal injury cases is determining who is covered by an auto insurance policy. Since most claims are paid via some form of insurance, whether it is that of the negligent driver or the victim’s own uninsured motorist coverage, it is critical to ascertain from the outset who is and is not covered. Rest assured, the insurance company will make every effort to deny coverage if it has a plausible legal reason to do so.
Stanley v. Government Employees Insurance Company
The Georgia Court of Appeals recently addressed an interesting variant of our recurring question: Does an uninsured motorist (UM) policy cover the fianceé (or common law spouse) of a named insured? The plaintiff in this personal injury case was driving a vehicle owned by his employer when he was the victim of a head-on collision with another driver. The plaintiff sustained serious injuries and sued the other driver for negligence.
The plaintiff’s own insurance policy had lapsed prior to the accident, so he attempted to serve the UM carrier of his fianceé’s parents. She was covered by her parents’ insurance policy, but the insurer said that coverage did not extend to her fianceé. A judge agreed with the insurer and held that it was not liable for covering the plaintiff’s accident.
The plaintiff fared no better in the Court of Appeals. Writing for a three-judge panel, Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard said the underlying policy in this case listed the fianceé’s parents as “named insureds” and the fianceé herself as an “additional driver.” With respect to UM coverage, the policy defines the “insured” parties as “you and your spouse if a resident of the same household,” “relatives” who live in the same household, and anyone occupying a vehicle owned by the insured parties. Judge Dillard said the plaintiff here did not fall into any of these categories. The plaintiff was not a “policyholder” so the “you and your” language did not apply to him.
In the alternative, the plaintiff argued that he was actually the “common-law wife” of the woman he initially described as his fianceé. A spouse would qualify as an insured “relative” under the parents’ policy. But the plaintiff never raised this argument before the trial court, and the Court of Appeals therefore could not consider it for the first time on appeal.
In a footnote, Judge Dillard explained that while Georgia does not recognize common-law marriages anymore, the plaintiff and his fianceé purportedly entered into such a marriage while living in the District of Columbia, where they are recognized. And the Georgia Supreme Court has previously held that courts in this state “will recognize as valid a common law marriage established under the laws of another state.” So in theory, a common-law spouse could qualify as an insured party under an insurance policy like the one in this case, although once again, the Court of Appeals did not expressly address the subject.