Only Insured Can Stack Policies

 Only an “Insured” Person Possesses Standing to Stack Insurance

Stacking of insurance policies allows an insured with two different policies to combine the limits of the policies even though each have a single per occurrence limit of liability. In Montana, a statute governs who can stack insurance policies and what is needed than to stack insurance policies.

In Hecht v. Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company, United States District Court,  D. Montana, Slip Copy, (2016)  2016 WL 837932 (03/03/2016) Plaintiff Don Hecht, as guardian and conservator for his daughter Sunni Hecht, brought a declaratory action in Montana state court seeking a declaration that the liability limits for two recreational vehicles insured under a policy issued by Defendant Mountain West Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (Mountain West) stack under Montana law which was removed to the U.S. District Court.

BACKGROUND

Sunni Hecht was injured while riding as a passenger in a 2013 RZR Polaris ATV recreational vehicle in Idaho on May 30, 2014. Sunni suffered significant and permanent catastrophic injuries. Sunni’s damages may exceed $600,000.

Dustin McKay owned the Polaris RZR. Dustin’s father, Richard McKay, insured the Polaris RZR as a “recreational vehicle” under a Mountain West farm/ranch liability policy (the Policy).  The Policy also insured a second recreational vehicle at the time of the accident — a 2009 Polaris Ranger.

The Policy’s Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement extended personal liability coverage under Section II, Coverage F (liability) “for loss arising out of ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of [a covered] ‘recreational motor vehicle.’”  Richard Mckay paid a separate annual liability insurance premium of $29.70 for the Polaris RZR and the Polaris Ranger.

Gabby Moore drove the Polaris RZR at the time of the accident. The parties assume, for purposes of this action, that Moore’s negligence in driving the Polaris RZR caused the accident. Moore qualified as an “insured” person under the Policy. The Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement defines an “insured” person to include any person “legally responsible for a [covered] ‘recreational motor vehicle’ owned by an ‘insured.’”

Section II, Coverage F of the Policy, as endorsed, limited liability for bodily injury to $300,000 per “each occurrence.” The parties agree that the tragic accident in this case involved a single occurrence. Mountain West has paid Sunni $300,000 in personal liability coverage. Plaintiff seeks to recover an additional $300,000 in personal liability coverage in this action given that the Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement also provided liability coverage for the Polaris Ranger.

POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

Plaintiff argues that the liability limits for the Polaris RZR and the Polaris Ranger should stack for several reasons. Plaintiff argues first that Richard McKay paid a separate liability premium on each of the two covered recreational vehicles. Plaintiff contends that Montana law has allowed stacking of uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage, and medical payment coverage to occur when the insurer charges separate premiums for each motor vehicle covered under an automobile policy. Plaintiff next argues that the “Limits of Liability” provision in Section II of the Mountain West Policy, which purports to prohibit stacking, should not be enforceable because it fails to comply with Montana’s anti-stacking statute, Mont. Code Ann. § 33-23-203.

Mountain West argued that only an “insured” person possesses standing to stack insurance coverages under Montana law. Sunni did not qualify as an “insured” under the Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement. Mountain West further argued that stacking of insurance coverages in Montana has been confined to personal and portable coverages in motor vehicle policies. These potential portable coverages encompass uninsured motorist coverage, underinsured motorist coverage, and medical payment coverage. Mountain West claimed that liability coverage has not construed as personal to an insured or portable under Montana law.

APPLICABLE LAW

Montana law allows a claimant to stack multiple insurance coverages only if the claimant can show that he or she qualifies an “insured” under all of the coverages to be stacked.

The Definitions Section of the Mountain West Policy and the Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement, read together, define an “insured” person to include a named insured, a relative or minor child residing in a named insured’s household, and any person legally responsible for a covered recreational motor vehicle owned by an insured. Sunni failed to qualify as a named insured under the Policy. She was not a relative of a named insured. She was not legally responsible for a covered vehicle owned by an insured. Sunni was merely a passenger in the Polaris RZR. As such, she does not qualify as an “insured” under Section II – Liability or the Recreational Motor Vehicle Endorsement.  Since Sunni was not an insured under the Mountain West Policy stacking does not apply under Montana law.

ZALMA OPINION

Allowing an insured to stack various coverages, although an odd interpretation of an insurance policy, makes sense under some circumstances such as UIM coverages where separate premiums are paid for coverages that can apply separately or when, as here, it is allowed by statute. Unfortunately for the seriously injured Sunni, she did not qualify as an insured for the purpose of stacking under the statute and must limit her search for indemnity to the assets of the person responsible for the accident.

ZALMA-INS-CONSULT                      © 2016 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, practiced law in California for more than 43 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer.  He now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes.

He founded Zalma Insurance Consultants in 2001 and serves as its only consultant.

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About Barry Zalma

An insurance coverage and claims handling author, consultant and expert witness with more than 48 years of practical and court room experience.
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