Tennessee Supreme Court holds that rental car was Uninsured Motor Vehicle

by Mandy Hicks

In a pedestrian accident involving a motor vehicle, most people would assume that the pedestrian’s medical expenses and other damages would be paid by the driver’s insurance carrier. If for some reason that did not happen, most would assume the injured person’s own uninsured motorist insurance would honor its contractual obligation and pay the medical claim.

Unfortunately, those assumptions proved to be wrong in a case arising from an incident that occurred in 2012. Instead, the injured man had to file a lawsuit and take his case all the way to the state supreme court in order to obtain relief under uninsured motor vehicle provisions in his insurance.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Martin v. Powers, the plaintiff was a man who was intentionally struck by a rented automobile in a bar parking lot. The plaintiff filed suit against the driver, the driver’s automobile liability insurer, and the rental car company. He also provided notice of the lawsuit to his own uninsured motorist insurance carrier. The driver’s automobile liability insurer was dismissed from the case because it was not obligated to provide coverage, since the driver had acted intentionally (rather than negligently). After it became evident that the driver had not purchased optional liability coverage from the rental company, the injured man voluntarily dismissed his claim against the rental car company.

The trial court then granted summary judgment to the uninsured motorist insurer, holding that the rental car was not an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the man’s policy. The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed, and the man appealed to the state’s highest court.

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s Ruling

On appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court, the court reversed the court of appeals’ order affirming the trial court’s entry of summary judgment for the UM carrier. Although the UM carrier argued that the rental company was a “self-insurer” under Tennessee Code Annotated § 55-12-111, the court disagreed. Since the rental car was not owned by a self-insured entity, it met the definition of an uninsured motor vehicle under the policy of insurance issued to the injured man by the uninsured motorist carrier.

In so holding, the court noted that the injured man was not asserting a claim of direct liability against the rental company. Although he had originally sought to hold the rental company liable based on a legal theory of negligent entrustment, he had voluntarily dismissed that claim.

To Talk to an Attorney Knowledgeable in Tennessee Motor Vehicle Accident Law

Consumers often pay premiums for years, only to have their uninsured motorist carrier deny their claim when they are hurt in an accident. If you have been hurt in a wreck caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you have the right to hire an attorney to negotiate your uninsured or underinsured motorist claim and, if necessary, file a lawsuit against your carrier. The seasoned Tennessee car accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley can help. For a free consultation, call us at (270) 781-6500 in Bowling Green. We represent injured peoplethroughout both Tennessee and Kentucky.

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