Emotional Damages After a Car Crash?

The Missouri Supreme Court has allowed the recovery of damages in a car crash under uninsured motorist (UM) policies for emotional distress in cases even in which the insured has sustained no physical injury.  The Supreme Court’s decision can be interpreted to allow coverage for only mental injuries.  DeRousse v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 298 S.W.3d 891 (Mo. banc 2009).

DeRousse was not physically injured and sought no medical treatment but did suffer well documented emotional and mental injuries following the accident.

Following the car accident, DeRousse sought coverage for her mental injury under her State Farm UM coverage.  State Farm denied her claim and she sued for coverage. 

The trial court granted summary judgment for State Farm, finding UM coverage for “bodily injury” did not contemplate emotional and mental distress.  The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, upheld the trial court’s summary judgment for State Farm.

Citing Lanigan v. Snowden, 938 S.W.2d 330 (Mo. App. W.D. 1997), DeRousse argued the trial court’s ruling for State Farm should be reversed because the court’s interpretation of her policy did not comply with the Missouri Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law, Section 379.203.1, R.S.Mo. 2000.  Section 379.203.1 requires auto liability insurers to provide UM coverage for “bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death” caused by the owners and operators of uninsured motor vehicles.

The Eastern District rules again in favor of State Farm.

The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed, however, and sided with DeRousse. 

State Farm conceded its policy language was not in compliance with Section 379.203.1.  The Supreme Court held the statute’s broader language controlled.

The Missouri Supreme Court concluded DeRousse’s mental injuries were compensable under the statute’s “sickness” or “disease” prongs.  The Supreme Court reached essentially the same result as in Lanigan v. Snowden where the Western District found the policy’s “bodily injury” definition to be ambiguous because it was unclear whether “bodily” also modified “sickness or disease.”

It is yet unclear whether the Missouri Supreme Court’s decision will be limited to cases involving UM benefits.  However, as the Missouri Supreme Court has now decided that the word “bodily” does not modify “sickness or disease,” attorneys now anticipate that claimants will now rely on the Court’s decision to seek coverage for mental and emotional harm, in the absence of any actual bodily injury, under other types of insurance policies as well.

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