Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 88521; Published
Unanimous; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 439 Mich 126; Link to Opinion
Private Contract (Meaning and Intent)
Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Underinsured Motorist Coverage in General
Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Setoffs Applicable to Underinsured Motorist Cases
Uninsured Motorist Benefits: Uninsured Motorist Coverage in General
In this unanimous per curiam Opinion, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that where Auto-Owners' insurance policy provided both underinsured and uninsured motorist coverage, and where the policy separately stated the limits of coverage for uninsured and underinsured in the amount of $50,000/$100,000 for each coverage, the total liability is nevertheless $50,000/$100,000 even where the injury or death is caused by the combined negligence of both an uninsured and an underinsured driver.
Christopher Boissonneault was killed in a multi-vehicle accident. He was a passenger in a vehicle involved in a drag race with another automobile. The car in which Christopher was a passenger ran a stop sign and collided with yet a third vehicle. The automobile in which Christopher was riding was "underinsured." The other automobile involved in the drag race was "uninsured."
Boissonneault was covered by an Auto-Owners policy which provided uninsured motorist coverage, and which contained an endorsement which "extended" the coverage to accidents with underinsured motorists. The declarations page stated identical liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per occurrence, for each coverage. The declarations page also stated a premium of $6 for the uninsured motorist coverage and a separate premium of $3 for the underinsured motorist coverage.
A claim was made by Christopher's personal representative to a right to recover $50,000 under the uninsured coverage and an additional $50,000 under the underinsured coverage. Auto-Owners contended that liability to the decedent's estate was limited to $50,000.
Boissonneault's representative claimed that the declarations page provided for separate premiums, and therefore there must be separate $50,000 liability limits for each claim. The Court of Appeals held that the policy at issue was ambiguous as to whether an insured could maintain simultaneous claims for maximum benefits under both the uninsured and underinsured motorist provisions. Construing the ambiguity in favor of the insured, the Court of Appeals upheld coverage in the maximum limits as to each claim.
In reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court held that the total liability under the policy was limited to $50,000/$100,000, without regard to whether the injury or death was caused by one or more uninsured drivers, one or more underinsured drivers, or both uninsured and underinsured drivers. The Supreme Court pointed out that if both vehicles involved in the accident had been underinsured, the total limit of liability would indisputably be $50,000. Similarly, if both vehicles had been uninsured, the total liability would, again, indisputably be $50,000. The court held that a reasonable policyholder would not expect that the policy would provide for recovery of an additional $50,000 by reason of the happenstance that the accident involved both an uninsured vehicle and an underinsured vehicle rather than two uninsured or two underinsured vehicles.