Underinsured motorist case filed in wrong state court

by Mandy Hicks

One of the first things that future attorneys learn in law school is that a court must have jurisdiction before it can act in a particular case. This power of the court to act is two-fold. The court must have both personal jurisdiction (power over the persons or corporations named in the suit), and it must have subject matter jurisdiction (authority of a court to hear cases of a particular type or cases relating to a specific subject matter). If either is missing, the court lacks the power to adjudicate the matter and must dismiss the case.

In the recent unpublished opinion of Taylor v. Bristol West Insurance Company, the Jefferson Circuit Court was called upon to decide whether a Kentucky trial court had jurisdiction over an insurance company that issued a motor vehicle insurance policy to an Indiana resident who was later involved in a car accident in Jefferson County, Kentucky.

The Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was an Indiana resident who was involved in a car accident in Kentucky. The other motorist involved in the collision admitted fault, and her insurance company paid out the policy limits to the plaintiff. The plaintiff then filed suit against the defendant, her own uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist insurance carrier, seeking to recover UIM benefits for her injuries arising from the accident.

The defendant insurance company argued that the Kentucky court in which the plaintiff had filed suit lacked personal jurisdiction over it. As grounds, it stated that it was a foreign corporation, that the plaintiff was an Indiana resident, that the insurance policy was issued in Indiana, and that the insured vehicle was normally garaged in Indiana. It also specifically alleged that Kentucky lacked jurisdiction over it under the state’s long-arm statute. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to the insurance company. The plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

In analyzing the Kentucky Long-Arm Statute, codified at Kentucky Revised Statutes § 454.210, the court found that there was a two-prong test to determine whether a court had jurisdiction. First, the defendant’s conduct must fall under one of the categories enumerated in the statute, and, second, the conduct falling under the statute must have a direct nexus to (or must have arisen from) the wrongful conduct set forth in the plaintiff’s complaint.

Since the underlying tort claims between the plaintiff and the negligent motorist had been settled, all that remained was an insurance contract dispute. As a result, the Kentucky courts lacked jurisdiction for the reasons alleged by the defendant. The contract was formed in Indiana, the car was normally kept in Indiana, the plaintiff was an Indiana resident, and so forth. Accordingly, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision to grant summary judgment to the defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction.

For Help with Your Car Accident Case

If you need legal advice concerning a motor vehicle accident, call the experienced Kentucky truck accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley at (270) 781-6500. We will be glad to set up a free, confidential appointment to discuss your Bowling Green, south central Kentucky, or middle Tennessee motor vehicle accident case or other personal injury lawsuit.

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