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Underinsured Motorists Coverage

Hanna v. Indiana Farms Mutual Insurance Company (Ind. Ct. App. Feb. 29, 2012)

- Originally published February 29, 2012

This case involves an underinsured motorists (UIM) claim brought by the parents of a child killed in a two-car collision during a drag race. The Plaintiffs received compensation from the tortfeasors and then brought a claim against the Plaintiffs’ insurance company. The Court of Appeals issued two important holdings: 1) the deceased child’s parents were entitled to a single joint claim for their son’s death; and 2) the parents were not entitled to UIM proceeds because the amounts they had received from the tortfeasors exceeded their coverage limits under their UIM insurance policy.

The first holding turned on an interpretation of the Child Wrongful Death Act which, in pertinent part, allows the father and mother jointly, or either of them individually by naming the other parent as a co-defendant, to bring a claim for their child’s wrongful death. The Court held the statute does not permit each parent to maintain a separate wrongful death claim.

Although the first holding seems fairly straight forward, it was an issue of first impression. Specifically, no Court had ever held that parents of a deceased child could not each maintain a separate action for wrongful death. This decision therefore provides important clarity to any parties involved in a child wrongful death case. The case also highlights the issues that can arise when a child of divorced parents dies because of the torts of another person. In this circumstance, two claims would be improper. The parents either must bring a single joint claim or one parent may bring the claim and name the other parent as a party to answer for his interest.

The second holding turned on the fact that the parents had received $300,000 from the tortfeasors and had only $250,000 in UIM coverage. This holding is nothing new, but does apply established law regarding UIM coverage to this particular set of facts.

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