Wash. Court Dismisses Couple’s ‘Phantom Vehicle’ Suit

A Seattle appeals court has ruled against a Washington couple who sued Farmers Insurance for denying an accident claim after a single-car crash in which the couple claimed a “phantom car” was to blame.

Michael and Brenda Osborne had alleged breach of contract on the part of Farmers after the insurance provider refused to pay underinsured motorist benefits on their auto policy as a result of the April 21, 2009, accident.

The Osbornes had alleged they were entitled to bodily injury and property damage benefits under their Washington auto insurance policy.

Judge's gavelUninsured and underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) policies are meant to protect consumers in the event they get into an accident caused by a driver who has no coverage or low liability limits that are not enough to pay for all injuries or damages. They also cover damages caused by hit-and-run drivers and phantom vehicles, in certain cases.

Farmers denied the claim because there was no independent evidence corroborating the existence of a second vehicle, as required by the Osborne’s auto policy.  A trial court found in the insurer’s favor, dismissing the Osbornes’ lawsuit.

The Osbornes claimed they were driving their Subaru in Skagit County when a vehicle approached from the opposite direction and came partially into their lane, forcing them off the road to avoid a crash.

A Skagit County sheriff’s deputy who was patrolling nearby when he came across the accident scene later testified he had seen no other vehicles in the area and noticed no skid marks or other evidence of “a sudden avoidance maneuver,” according to court documents.

The deputy testified that he thought the accident might have happened because Brenda Osborne simply drove off the road where it curved.

The couple appealed the trial court ruling, claiming the court had erred in not considering statements they made at the accident scene about a second vehicle.

But the appeals court ruled that the trial court was right to strike those statements from the record as hearsay, along with some other testimony.

“Neither of the Osbornes submitted or identified any physical evidence to support their assertion that another vehicle was involved in the accident,” the appeals court opinion states.

About Gregor McGavin
Gregor McGavin is an award-winning journalist who has reported across the country for such publications as The Associated Press, the Arizona Republic, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and the Press-Enterprise.

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