Posted by Wm. Daniel Floyd
INSURANCE COVERAGE/UM STACKING: In cases of conflict between pre-printed and written portions of insurance policy, written portions will prevail. State Farm v. Staton, 286 Ga. 23, 685 S.E.2d 263 (2009)
Cecil Staton was involved in a serious automobile accident suffering serious injuries. The vehicle he was traveling in was owned by his employer, Smyth & Helwys, and insured by State Farm at the time of loss. The State Farm policy identified the “named insured” as the “first person named” on the declarations page. Smyth & Helwys was the first and only name listed on that page. Smyth & Helwys owned two other vehicles which were insured separately by State Farm, but which were not involved in the collision. These additional vehicle policies issued by State Farm also identified Smyth & Helwys as the sole named insured on the respective declarations pages.
The UM coverage for each separate policy was $100,000. The claimant Staton wanted to stack the policies of the vehicle he was actually traveling in along with each of the other two non-involved vehicles to provide UM coverage totaling $300,000. State Farm moved for summary judgment, arguing that Staton was not the named insured on any of the policies and that, therefore, he could seek UM coverage on the policy covering only the vehicle he was traveling in at the time of the collision. The trial court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment and the Court of Appeals reversed due to an ambiguity in the policy, which defined a “person” as “human being,” which Smith & Helwys, being a corporate entity clearly was not.
The Supreme Court reversed this finding (by the Court of Appeals that found Staton to be a named insured under the policy), concluding that the term “named insured” was unambiguous. The simple meaning of who an insured should be was readily apparent from the declarations pages. On the declarations pages, Smyth & Helwys was the only named insured on each of the policies. The Court further held that, to the extent the pre-printed portion of the policies (which defined a person as a human being) were in conflict with the written portion (the name appearing on the declarations), the written portion must prevail. “It is a well settled rule, in construing . . . policies of insurance, the main portions of which are printed and the special or particular portions adapting it to the precise agreement of the parties are written, that the written words should be given greater force and effect than those which are printed.” Accordingly, Staton was not entitled to stack the UM coverage of his employer’s other two auto policies.
This case is important to keep in mind when attempting to evaluate potential stacking of coverages for a commercial carrier or business. The key is to read the definition section(s) carefully to determine who is specifically listed as an insured. Next, the written or typed information added to a standard policy form of insurance listing the named insured will trump a vague pre-printed definition in the policy form. Essentially if John Doe claims he is an insured under a pre-printed section of an insurance policy form, but the declarations page states only that ABC Corp is the named insured, John Doe cannot claim to be a named insured and thus, cannot stack additional commercial coverages for vehicles not involved in his accident.