Missouri Supreme Court Overturns STD Judgment Against GEICO
An incredibly unusual insurance claim gained media attention last year: A woman filed a multi-million-dollar insurance claim with GEICO after contracting a sexually transmitted disease in a GEICO-insured car. The astounding part was that she won at trial, and GEICO was told to pay. The Missouri Supreme Court recently reversed that decision and restored order to this chaotic world. Continue reading to learn about the unusual claim and why the state’s high court decided to reverse the coverage decision. For help defending against overbroad claims for coverage, call a seasoned New York insurance coverage defense attorney for advice and representation.
Woman Gets HPV in Car, Sues GEICO for Coverage, Wins
The instant case stems from a sexual encounter between the plaintiff, identified in court papers as M.O., and a man identified as M.B. According to M.O., she had unprotected sex with M.B. in his 2014 Hyundai Genesis. The vehicle was insured by GEICO. After the encounter, the woman tested positive for the human papillomavirus (HPV). She alleges that the man, M.O., had HPV and knew about it, having been diagnosed with an HPV-related throat cancer tumor. He neglected to tell her about his diagnosis. She claims she caught HPV in that encounter.
After testing positive for HPV, the woman brought legal claims against M.B. She filed a claim with GEICO, demanding up to the policy limits for her bodily injury. GEICO denied the coverage.
Subsequently, M.O. and M.B. entered into an arbitration agreement. The agreement provided that her legal claims would be submitted to arbitration, but that she would only seek recovery of any judgment from M.B.’s insurers, rather than from him directly. The arbitrator ultimately awarded M.O. $5.2 million as “fair and just compensation” for her damages.
M.O. later informed GEICO of the arbitration agreement, but not that the arbitration had already concluded. She then filed a lawsuit against M.B. to enforce the arbitration award, without adding GEICO as a party. The court affirmed the arbitration award. When GEICO later intervened and moved to vacate the award, the court granted GEICO’s plea to intervene but rejected the motion to vacate. To be clear, GEICO had asked to intervene before the court issued its judgment.
The court of appeals agreed, leaving GEICO apparently on the hook for the $5.2 million award. GEICO sought review by the Missouri Supreme Court.
State Supreme Court Reverses, but GEICO Isn’t off the Hook
The Missouri Supreme Court reversed the decision. The Court ruled that GEICO should have been given the right to intervene before the court issued a judgment affirming the arbitration award. Because GEICO wasn’t given the chance to make its case before the court affirmed the arbitration award, the decision was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
For such an unusual claim, the court’s decision was entirely procedural. M.O. previously argued, successfully, that GEICO had ample opportunity to defend against the claim–she filed a claim with them, she informed them about the lawsuit, etc.–and they chose in bad faith to refuse to negotiate a settlement or otherwise defend the man against her claims.
The state supreme court did not address whether an STD should be covered by an auto insurance liability policy. Nor did the state supreme court explain what rights GEICO should have upon intervening. GEICO separately filed a case in federal court seeking a declaratory judgment that the insurance policy should not cover her claims. GEICO argues, naturally, that contracting an STD is not “bodily injury” that arises “out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the owned auto.” That coverage dispute is still pending.
Regardless of what happens next, the whole matter serves as a healthy reminder to insurance providers to take every claim seriously. Even if a claim sounds ludicrous, it’s important to respond in a timely manner and make your arguments heard in court.
For professional, experienced legal guidance on a New York insurance defense, toxic tort, or products liability claim, contact the Islip offices of Richard A. Fogel at 516-721-7161.