§49.16B Uninsured Motorist Cases - Comparative Fault
The Case: Collazo v. Haas, No. 2011-00775-COA-R3-CV, 2011 WL 6351865 (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 15, 2011).
The Basic Facts: Plaintiff was injured when a truck owned by defendant hit plaintiff’s vehicle. The truck had been at a construction site, and the driver fled the scene and had not been identified. Plaintiff sued the defendant owner of the truck and the unidentified driver, and plaintiff’s own uninsured motorist (UM) insurance carrier was an unnamed defendant. Plaintiff settled with defendant owner for $90,000; the limit on plaintiff’s UM policy was $100,000. Plaintiff’s UM policy moved for summary judgment based on the settlement with the owner, which the trial court granted but the Court of Appeals overturned.
The Bottom Line:
· “We have determined this holding was in error because the allocation of comparative fault between Haas and John Doe has not been determined. As we explain below, Haas’s liability insurance does not preclude the UM claim unless Haas is found to be ‘legally liable’ for no less than $100,000 of Plaintiffs’ damages or it is established that John Doe is insured for no less than $10,000 and is found to be ‘legally liable’ for no less than that amount, for an aggregate of $100,000, being the policy limits under Plaintiff’s UM coverage with Nationwide.” 2011 WL 6351865, at *3.
· “When read together, these two statutes require that where an insured has purchased UM coverage, the UM carrier must pay benefits in cases where: (1) a claimant is legally entitled to recover damages from the uninsured motorist and, (2) the total amount of liability coverage available to the insured is less than the insured’s uninsured motorist coverage limits.” Id. at *4.
· “Where there is more than one alleged tortfeasor and the allocation of fault is at issue, especially when one tortfeasor is presumed to be uninsured, the viability of a UM claim must be examined in the context of Tennessee’s system of modified comparative fault, as adopted in McIntyre v. Ballentine, 833 S.W.2d 52 (Tenn. 1992). The purpose of comparative fault ‘is to link one’s liability to his or her degree of fault in causing a plaintiff’s damages.’ McNabb v. Highways, 98 S.W.3d 649, 652 (Tenn. 2003). Accordingly, where there are multiple tortfeasors, each is liable only for damages representing the percentage or amount of their respective fault. McIntyre v. Ballentine, 833 S .W.2d 52, 56–58 (Tenn. 1992). Therefore, the liability insurer for each respective tortfeasor is obligated to indemnify its insured for injury or damage based upon the insured tortfeasor’s degree of fault and no more. See Fleissner & Campbell, supra, § 5:3 Bodily Injury and Property Damage, Limits of Liability.” Id.at *5.
· “The truck driven by John Doe was insured under Haas’s automobile liability insurance policy up to $100,000 for damages caused by Haas’s negligence or that of a permissive user. Thus, if Haas is found to be 100% at fault for Plaintiffs’ damages, Haas’s insurance policy bars Plaintiffs’ UM claim against Nationwide. However, if Haas is not at fault and John Doe is not insured, the fact that Haas has a $100,000 liability policy on the truck does not bar the UM claim. At this stage in the proceedings, we are in no position to comparatively allocate fault between John Doe and Haas.” Id. at *6.
· “Because we do not know the extent, if any, of Haas’s ‘legal liability’ to Plaintiffs, the mere fact that Haas maintains $100,000 liability insurance on the truck does not preclude Plaintiffs’ claim for UM benefits.” Id. at *7.