Federal Court Holds UIM Insured Injured in Chain Reaction Accident Entitled to Only One Per-Accident Limit

June 24th, 2016

In a recent decision in IDS Property Casualty Insurance Co. v. Pickens, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142638 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 20, 2015), the United States District Court for the Federal District of Washington held a UIM insured was not entitled to two per-accident UIM limits when he was struck by a vehicle that had previously collided with another vehicle.  The court held that, even though the accident in which the insured was injured may have had more than one proximate cause, it was still only one accident for purposes of determining how many per-accident limits applied. 

This question arises periodically in Washington as a result of the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in Greengo v. Public Employee’s Mutual Insurance Company, 135 Wn.2d 799, 959 P.2d 657 (1998).  In that case, the UIM insured was in a vehicle that rear-ended the car in front, and which was also rear-ended by the car behind.  The insured recovered one UIM limit from the insurer of the car in which she was riding, and also sought the UIM limit of her own policy issued by PEMCO.  The PEMCO policy precluded stacking of its UIM coverage with other available UIM coverage, stating the maximum the insured could recover was the highest limit of the applicable policies.  The trial court upheld the anti-stacking provision and the Washington Court of Appeals affirmed.  The Washington Supreme Court agreed the anti-stacking clause was valid and enforceable, but addressed the possibility that the insured might be entitled to two limits because there may have been more than one accident.  The court noted it had previously held “[w]here there were two collisions, we look to see if each has its own proximate cause.  If so then there are two accidents.”  135 Wn.2d at 813.  The court remanded the matter for a determination as to proximate cause and the number of accidents.

Pickens involved a UIM insured who was struck by a car while he was standing on a sidewalk.  The car that struck him had collided with another vehicle immediately before careening onto the sidewalk.  The insured sought two per-accident UIM limits, arguing there had been two collisions and two proximate causes (i.e., the negligence of each driver).  Therefore, under the reasoning of Greengo, there were two accidents and he was entitled to two per-accident limits.  The court disagreed, concluding:

Greengo does not establish that two per accident UIM limits apply when an insured is involved in one collision that has two proximate causes. Rather, Greengo establishes that when an insured is involved in two collisions, there are two “accidents” for purposes of UIM coverage if each collision has a separate proximate cause. . . .

2015 U.S. LEXIS 142638 at 14.  Because the insured in Pickens involved in only one of the collisions, he was entitled to only one per occurrence limit.