Court: GEICO Should Pay UM Benefits in Crash Caused by Trailer

A Florida appeals court has ruled that GEICO should have to pay uninsured motorist benefits to the passenger of a truck that was insured by the company after he was injured in a one-car accident caused by a trailer that the truck had been towing.

GEICO’s original assertion—which was backed up by a lower court—was the trailer that helped cause the crash was technically part of the insured vehicle at the time of the accident and therefore should not be considered an uninsured vehicle.

But Florida’s 5th Circuit Court of Appeal ultimately decided the lower court had incorrectly interpreted the Florida automobile insurance policy and reversed the decision.

The case had its beginnings when the person who sought uninsured motorist benefits, Ryan Trout, was riding in a truck that was being driven by his uncle but was owned by another person who had insured it through GEICO. The policy included uninsured motorist coverage that covered the policyholder’s and any passengers’ damages that were caused through the operation of an uninsured vehicle.

Trout’s uncle was towing a trailer that belonged to neither Trout nor his uncle and was not covered under any car insurance policy.

While the two were riding in the truck down the interstate, the trailer began to sway, according to court documents, and it ultimately led to Trout’s uncle’s losing control of the truck.

Both spun out of control. No other cars or drivers were harmed, but the trailer disconnected, the truck hit the guardrail and Trout was injured.

Trout filed a claim for benefits through the UM portion of his uncle’s GEICO policy, saying the trailer that had helped contribute to the accident was uninsured.

But GEICO said that, because the crash involved only a single vehicle, UM coverage shouldn’t apply.

The case was taken to court, and the court ruled that the trailer was technically part of the insured truck at the time of the accident, which meant it was not technically an uninsured vehicle.

But the Fifth District Court of Appeal of Florida ruled that this was incorrect “in light of the plain language of the GEICO policy.”

The appeals court wrote in its opinion that whether the damages were covered depends on whether the trailer was technically uninsured.

To make this decision, they looked at 1. “whether the trailer was a separate auto” and, if so, 2. “whether the trailer came within the definition of ‘uninsured auto.'”

GEICO argued that the policy contained language indicating that a car and attached trailer should be considered one car, and that this definition should apply in Trout’s case.

But the court wrote it its opinion that this definition was included only in the section regarding liability insurance coverage and did not extend to the UM portion, which meant the trailer was considered its own entity under the policy.

The court also found that the trailer fell within the definition of an uninsured auto, since it was not listed on any insurance policy.

The opinion appears to be relatively narrow, since it applies only to the type of GEICO insurance policy that covered the car. It does not necessarily mean that all accidents caused by an uninsured trailer are covered under the towing vehicle’s uninsured motorist policy.

To read the experiences of current and former GEICO policyholders, readers can find user-submitted GEICO auto insurance reviews online.

About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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