Family Exclusions in Car Insurance Policies
Protecting your family in an automobile accident is one of the most important things you can do. That should be easy enough to accomplish! Simply call your insurance agent and ask for full coverage. Perfect! Unfortunately, sometimes it is not always this simple due to the “intrafamily exclusion” that may be in an insurance policy. This is actually a common exclusion in the State of Ohio. For example, you are driving your wife to a hair appointment and you cause a serious accident. You submit your wife’s injury claims after the accident to your own insurance company. After some time waiting, the insurance company finally tells you they’re position – there is no coverage. Upset and mad, you discuss the matter with an attorney who tells you that under the intra family exclusion, there is no coverage in the policy. Under Ohio law, your wife as a family member living in your household can not bring a claim against you for your negligence. This is called the “intra family exclusion” doctrine. Ironically, if your neighbor had been injured in this same accident, she would have been covered up to the liability limits under your automobile insurance policy. In another scenario, if your wife had been driving with a friend, she would also be covered for her injuries. Some insurance policies are expanded to preclude coverage if a family member was a pedestrian or if another family vehicle is involved. This doctrine has also been applied to include uninsured motorist coverage.
If you’ve researched the ins and outs of car insurance policies, you know that they are complex documents that are difficult to understand. Due to the length and complexity of an automobile insurance policy, most people never review the fine print in their policy. While we certainly don’t blame them and know how arduous it can be to understand an insurance policy, most people simply go online, get a quote for their insurance policy and click purchase. What they usually don’t know is that deep in the fine print of most policies is what’s called the “intrafamily exclusions” clause. Language in these clauses preclude any family member that is in your automobile during an accident from recovering for injuries caused by your negligence!
Practically speaking, because they are excluded by this specific language, your family would have to file a personal injury lawsuit against you to recover all damages they’ve sustained. This would not be the same result if your neighbor was injured. Your neighbor would be able to make a claim under the liability provisions of your policy up to your insurance limits but your own family often cannot if this language is present! In essence, family exclusion language in a car insurance policy results in no coverage to your family. This is very unfair and has the potential to devastate a family!
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History of the Family Exclusion
The intrafamily exclusion has been around for many years. It states that a family member, or any person related to an insured by blood, marriage or adoption, who resides in the same household, may not bring a claim or lawsuit against another family member who may be deemed liable for an accident to which they are a passenger in the insured vehicle. Often some car insurance policies are more expansive and deny coverage regardless as to whether the family member is injured in an insured vehicle, another vehicle or as a pedestrian! If your family had not been excluded enough. Originally, the intra family exclusion was the insurance companies attempt to prevent family members from colluding and/or committing fraud on the insurance company. Although that rationale still exists today, there are many other ways to determine if collusion or fraud has occurred. As you can see, your family may be left without recourse due to a family member’s negligence.
As far as the law is concerned, however, this exclusion has long been held to be valid by the Ohio Supreme Court. The rationale for the family car insurance policy exclusion in Ohio is to prevent fraudulent or collusive intra-family lawsuits for insurance benefits. This exclusion has also been applied to underinsured/uninsured claims which again would preclude your family from recovery. The Dunson court stated that RC 3937.18 allows insurance companies to include this exclusionary provision limiting families from recovery under their own UM policies.
Wrongful Death Exception
In Ohio, there is a wrongful death exception to the family exclusion. As of March 22, 2013, the Ohio legislator passed ORC Section 3937.46 entitling the “owner or operator of a motor vehicle an action for wrongful death” and prohibits the intrafamily liability exclusions in automobile policies “in a claim or suit for damages made against the tortfeasor under ORC 2125 (Ohio’s wrongful death statute). There are exceptions if the policy providing the liability coverage in question includes uninsured/underinsured and the exclusion is not precluded by an intrafamily exclusion in the UM section. Due to the complexity of insurance coverages, it is important to speak with a car accident attorney about your case as early as possible before involving or making a claim to various insurance companies. Call the car accident lawyers at Sawan & Sawan for a free consultation.
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Protect Your Family
When insuring your vehicle, we give our clients the general advice that you should read and understand your policy with an eye to determining whether the insurance company has this exclusion. Give us a call if you’ve been in a car accident and are trying to determine whether insurance will cover you or your family. If you are reading this before purchasing insurance, it may be beneficial to have your agent show you the language in the applicable sections of the policy. Speak with an experienced car accident lawyer today to help determine whether you and your family will be covered by insurance. Remember without that protection, you leave you and your family in a very vulnerable position in which there will be no recovery for an accident caused by you.
We strongly suggest underinsured/uninsured coverage. It is estimated that 1 and 8 drivers in Ohio are uninsured. Ohio also has very low minimum policy limits of $25,000 per person per injury. Automobile accident injuries frequently result in damages much larger than these minimums. As a result, it is critical that you inquire into uninsured/underinsured coverage. This means that in the event of an injury caused by an uninsured or underinsured driver, you will still have the right of recovery against your own insurance company. Bear in mind, however, that you should have a lawyer look at your policy because it is still possible that underinsured coverage may not apply. Citing the example above, if your wife has been excluded from your liability coverage, you do become “uninsured.” Depending on the policy language, though uninsured, the policy may still preclude your wife from making an uninsured claim in the intrafamily exclusion provision. Again, this is typically the same analysis as the intra family exclusion. She is a household member excluded from uninsured coverage. To protect your family, always make sure that your uninsured insurance policy does not contain an exclusion for family members when a named insured driver causes an accident. Call your insurance agent requesting this type of coverage. If it is not offered, shop around for an insurance company who offers protection against the intra family exclusion.
Dennis E. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Florida
Dennis P. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Georgia
Christopher A. Sawan
Licensed in Ohio and Michigan
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