FIRE TRUCK OPERATOR’S OFFICIAL IMMUNITY PRECLUDES UNINSURED MOTORIST BENEFITS – INSURED NOT “LEGALLY ENTITLED TO RECOVER”
Recently, the Dallas Court of Appeals examined an insured’s claim for uninsured motorist benefits following a determination that “official immunity” precluded liability claims against the operator of a fire truck following a collision with the insured vehicle and determined that uninsured motorist coverage was also precluded. In Loncar v. Progressive County Mutual Ins. Co., 2018 WL 2355205 (Tex. App. – Dallas May 24, 2018), the insured vehicle collided with a City of Dallas fire truck that was responding, with lights and siren activated, to a fire alarm call. The insured sued for injuries sustained in the accident and the City filed a plea to the jurisdiction based on immunity. The insured then added claims against his insurers seeking uninsured motorist benefits. The insurers moved for summary judgment arguing that the policy allows recovery only when the insured is “legally entitled to recover” from the uninsured driver. And here, the other driver has “official immunity” which precludes legal liability; therefore the uninsured motorist coverage is likewise precluded. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment for the insurer. This appeal followed.
The Dallas Court of Appeals examined Texas case law as well as cases from other jurisdictions, addressing statute of limitations issues and other differences between liability assessments and contractual duties. Arguments presented by the insured - focusing on negligence as the cause of the accident, were contrasted by those of the insurer – asserting that coverage applies only when “the insured has a legally enforceable right to recover judgment from the uninsured motor vehicle owner or operator.” The court concluded that the policy is unambiguous and the insurer’s interpretation is correct. And absent an exception to the official immunity defense, the uninsured motorist coverage did not apply. Summary judgment in favor of the insurer was upheld.