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Texas Uninsured Motorist Coverage Value Is Reduced By Texas Supreme Court

In a 2008 Texas Supreme Court Opinion the Court ruled that property damage or personal injury caused by large parts detached or separated from a motor vehicle are no longer covered by a persons uninsured motorist coverage. The style of the case is Nationwide Insurance Company vs. Elchehimi (“Nationwide Insurance Case”).

In the Nationwide Insurance Case a station wagon collided with a drive axle and attached tandem wheels that had separated from an eighteen-wheel semi-trailer truck. The unidentified truck, which was being driven in the opposite direction across the divided highway, did not stop. Momentum carried the axle-wheel assembly across the dividing median where it struck the station wagon, injuring the occupants and damaging the car. Ordinarily, your uninsured motorist coverage protects you when a “hit and run” driver damages your vehicle and/or injures you or your occupants. Essentially, the person driving the other vehicle didn’t stop, and therefore the other driver is considered uninsured since you have no way of identifying them or their insurance company.

Nonetheless, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the Nationwide Insurance Company did not have to pay an uninsured motorist claim because the axle-wheel assembly which separated from an unidentified semi-trailer does not constitute a “motor vehicle,” and therefore, does not fall within the terms of the policy and the Texas Insurance Code. The Court explained that: (1) motor vehicles are self-propelled (2) the collision was not a legally recognized substitute for the statute’s actual physical contact requirement (3) adopting an integral part test (in other words, if an integral part of the vehicle separates and hits someone) would be unmanageable.

As a result of the courts opinion an injured party will not be compensated even though they were prudent and had purchased full coverage when they are injured by a detached vehicle part. This will allow insurance companies to avoid paying claims even though their insured was injured on the highway and had purchased full coverage. To expand on the Court’s ruling consider the following: a vehicle owner knows that their rear bumper is about to fall off their car and they take that vehicle out on the highway anyway. They drive erratically, and the bumper flies off and into the windshield of the car behind them. Afraid to stop and face their responsibility, the wrongdoer speeds off before they can be identified. The injured person in the vehicle that was hit by the first car’s bumper has available claim on their own insurance policy – even though they wanted and paid for extra protection for situations when an uninsured, negligent person causes them harm and then runs away from the scene.

The dissent in arguing that the injured party should be covered when a part flies off of another vehicle stated “We have repeatedly and consistently held that because the UM [uninsured/underinsured] statute is remedial, it should be construed liberally to give full effect to the Legislature’s purpose in enacting it – to provide coverage to insured motorists.”