by Luke Baumstark
Many drivers may be unaware that the ability to recover for a traffic accident caused by someone else does not begin and end with the insurance coverage of the party at fault. Those who are rear-ended, side-swiped, T-boned, or even run over by uninsured drivers or drivers with insufficient insurance can often recover from their own insurers. This ability can be key to obtaining full compensation. Although Missouri and Illinois mandate that all drivers carry liability insurance, they require only a modest amount of coverage ($25,000 per injured party/$50,000 per accident). See §§ 303.025, 303.030 RSMo. See also 625 ILCS 5/7-203. Further frustrating the chances of a full recovery (you’d better sit down for this one) not everyone follows this law.
Luckily, Missouri and Illinois also require that insurers include uninsured motorist coverage of at least $25,000 for each injured person, and $50,000 for each accident on each vehicle in all policies that they issue. See § 379.203 RSMo. See also § 303.030 RSMo. See also Harrington v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 332 Ill. App. 3d 385, 392, 773 N.E.2d 98, 103 (Ill. 2002). See also 625 ILCS 5/7-203. Therefore, if you have auto liability insurance in Missouri or Illinois, you also have uninsured motorist coverage in at least this amount. Although not mandated by law, many insurance policies will also include underinsured motorist coverage.
Before diving into a discussion of how to best capitalize of these coverages in Missouri and Illinois, however, it is prudent to clarify the difference between these sound-alike types of insurance. Uninsured motorist coverage applies where the driver at fault either does not have liability insurance at all, or his/her identity cannot be determined, leaving the amount of such coverage unknown (think hit-and-runs). Underinsured motorist coverage applies where the driver at fault can be identified, and has some insurance, just not enough to cover all of the damages he/she caused.
Understanding the different ways that Missouri and Illinois treat these types of insurance can be key to making sure that St. Louis area drivers and passengers receive as much compensation as allowable under the law.
“What is Stacking?” and Stacking in Missouri
Missouri courts have defined stacking as “an insured’s ability to obtain multiple insurance coverage benefits for an injury…from more than one policy.” Ritchie v. Allied Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 307 S.W.3d 132, 135 (Mo. 2009), citing Niswonger v. Farm Bureau Town & Country Ins. Co. of Missouri, 992 S.W.2d 308, 313 (Mo.App. S.D.1999). In other words, the ability to be paid out for a single injury by insurance on multiple vehicles, regardless of whether the coverages come from one policy or many. Thankfully, Missouri Courts have recognized a public policy allowing injured parties to stack uninsured motorist coverages. Niswonger 992 S.W.2d at 313. Citing Cameron Mutual Ins. Co. v. Madden, 533 S.W.2d 538, 544-545 (Mo. banc 1976).
Therefore, where insureds have coverage on two or more vehicles, they can “stack” them, receiving the benefits of both. For example, if a driver is covered for two cars at the $25,000 per injured person mandatory minimum discussed above, he/she would be eligible for up to $50,000 in compensation. At three cars, this number increases to $75,000. At four, it is $100,000, and so on and so forth.
In Blum v. Allstate Insurance Company, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri called uninsured motorist coverage “personal” in nature, in that it covers individuals rather than vehicles. Blum v. Allstate Insurance Company 296 F. Supp.2d 1037, 1040 (E.D. Mo. 2003). The Court forced an insurer which covered the plaintiff for three vehicles to pay out $100,000, despite the highest policy limit for any single car being only $50,000. Id. at 1043. It reached this number by adding the $50,000 highest policy limit to the statutorily-mandated $25,000 for the remaining two cars. Id. The Court did this in spite of the fact that the plaintiff was not actually in any of the insured vehicles at the time, but was instead in a vehicle owned by someone else. Id. at 1038. In allowing the plaintiff to stack coverages for four vehicles (three from the insurer-defendant, plus one from another company, which had already paid) for a total recovery of over $125,000, Blum stands as an example of how stacking uninsured motorist coverages can help compensate injury victims in Missouri.
Unfortunately, because there are no statutory requirements for underinsured motorist coverage in Missouri, this category does not benefit from the same “pro-stacking” public policy. Therefore, “antistacking” provisions (found in insurance policies, and written by insurance companies to prevent stacking) are enforceable in Missouri, and can prevent stacking of underinsured motorist coverage. There are, however, a few situations (typically involving poorly drafted policies) in which underinsured motorist coverage can be stacked in spite of such provisions. In the interest of brevity, we will save a discussion of these exceptions for another day.
Stacking in Illinois
Unlike Missouri, Illinois Courts do not recognize the public policy in favor of stacking uninsured motorist coverage. Therefore, antistacking clauses can defeat claims for stacked coverage, “even where the plaintiff has paid separate premiums for uninsured motorist coverage for separate cars.” Menke v. Country Mutual Insurance Co., 78 Ill.2d 420, 425, 36 Ill.Dec. 698, 401 N.E.2d 539 (1980). Unfortunately, underinsured insurance is treated the same way. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. McFadden, 2012 IL App (2d) 120272, ¶ 14, 979 N.E.2d 551, 554. There are a few silver linings to this dark cloud, however.
First, antistacking provisions limit coverage to the single policy providing the highest limit. See McFadden, 2012 IL App (2d) 120272, ¶ 14. Therefore, if a driver is insured for vehicle “A” for $20,000, and vehicle “B” for $100,000, he/she will be allowed up to $100,000 in coverage, regardless of antistacking provisions. Id. Citing Armstrong v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 229 Ill.App.3d 971, 974–76, 172 Ill.Dec. 109, 595 N.E.2d 172 (1992).
Second, antistacking provisions are not automatically effective. As in Missouri’s handling of underinsured motorist coverage, antistacking provisions must be properly drafted to be effective in Illinois. Abram v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n, 395 Ill. App. 3d 700, 709, 916 N.E.2d 1175, 1183 (2009). Improperly drawn provisions can be invalidated by the general rule that ambiguities in insurance policies are to be construed in favor of coverage. Id. Citing Hobbs v. Hartford Insurance Co. of the Midwest, 214 Ill.2d 11, 17, 291 Ill.Dec. 269, 823 N.E.2d 561 (Ill. 2005).
Determining the amount of auto insurance available to compensate an injured party can be confusing for a number of reasons, including variances in the type of insurance involved and the state where the accident occurred. If you have been injured in a car accident where the party at fault is uninsured or does not have sufficient insurance to compensate you for your injuries, it is imperative that you contact a trial-ready lawyer who understands not only how to handle injury cases, but also how to interpret any and all insurance policies at issue. Doing otherwise might leave money on the table, and prevent you from getting the compensation you deserve.
 Although, depending on the policies involved, the insurer of vehicle “A” may have to kick in the first $20,000.