Harrison v. MFA Mut. Ins. Co.

Citation607 S.W.2d 137
Decision Date09 September 1980
Docket NumberNo. 61940,61940
PartiesBetty Harrison, Appellant, v. MFA Mutual Insurance Co., Respondent. AND Kathy Pridgen, Appellant, v. MFA Mutual Insurance Co., Respondent
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri

COUNSEL: Max W. Foust, G. Spencer Miller, Kansas City, Missouri, Attorneys for Appellants.

Michael J. Maloney, Kansas City, Missouri, Attorney for Respondent.

JUDGES: En Banc. Seiler, J. Donnelly, J., Rendlen, J., Welliver, J., Morgan, J., and Higgins, J. concur. Bardgett, C.J., dissents in separate dissenting opinion filed.


This is an appeal from a directed verdict in a consolidated suit brought under an uninsured motorist insurance clause for damages sustained in a single vehicle automobile accident. The court of appeals, western district, ordered the case transferred to this court after opinion because of the general interest and importance of the questions presented and the need for a reexamination of the law. We will treat the case as though here on original appeal. Mo. Const. art. V, § 10.

Plaintiffs' evidence established the following facts: On October 30, 1972, Vernon Bush lost control of his Plymouth automobile while driving at a speed in excess of the posted 50 miles per hour speed limit on M-291 Highway in Jackson County, Missouri. The automobile skidded and turned over. Bush was killed and his two passengers, plaintiffs herein -- his wife, Betty (now Betty Harrison) and his stepdaughter, Kathy Pridgen -- were injured. It is undisputed that Bush, his wife and stepdaughter all resided in the same (Bush's) household.

At the time of the accident, there was in effect an automobile liability insurance policy issued by defendant MFA Insurance Company to Vernon A. Bush as the named insured on the 1968 Plymouth automobile which he was driving. Defendant denied coverage of plaintiffs' original claims for their personal injuries under the liability section of the policy on the basis of the policy's "household exclusion" clause, which excludes coverage for "bodily injury to the insured or any member of the family of the insured residing in the same household as the insured." 1 Such an exclusion is inherent in the concept of liability insurance, which contemplates protection of the insured against liability running from the insured to another. Thus, even though Bush was negligent, the policy did not at any time extend liability coverage for bodily injury to members of the household who were injured while riding with the named insured. There is no direct claim to the contrary asserted in this appeal, although were plaintiffs to prevail in the position they take infra, it would effectively neutralize the clause excluding intra-family liability.

In the position to which we refer, plaintiffs are claiming coverage under the uninsured motorist section of the policy by which defendant agreed to pay "all sums which the insured or his legal representatives shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured highway vehicle . . . ." With respect to this coverage, the policy provided that "insured automobile" means "the described automobile" [i.e., the 1968 Plymouth described in the policy] and that the term "uninsured highway vehicle" shall not include "an insured automobile." Accordingly, defendant refused to pay plaintiffs under the uninsured motorist section on the basis that the policy's definitions and exclusions barred coverage.

Plaintiffs each filed suit alleging defendant's liability under the provisions of the uninsured motorist section. By stipulation of the parties, the suits of plaintiffs were consolidated for trial, a jury was waived, and the causes were submitted to the court as to the issue of liability. At the close of plaintiffs' evidence, defendant filed a motion for a directed verdict which the trial court sustained. On appeal, plaintiffs (hereinafter "appellants") allege that the trial court erred in granting the directed verdict, on the ground that the terms and conditions of the policy issued by defendant (hereinafter "respondent") were ineffective as vague, ambiguous and unclear, as well as violative of public policy.


Appellants assert that "the issue that must be decided is: What is an 'uninsured highway vehicle'?" Appellants concede that if the definition of "uninsured highway vehicle" as set forth in respondent's policy is applicable and valid, the judgment of the trial court must be affirmed.

Examination of the provisions of the "uninsured motorist insurance" section of Bush's policy shows that the terms of the policy extend coverage only to persons injured by an "uninsured highway vehicle." Therefore, to recover damages under this section appellants must show that Vernon Bush was driving an "uninsured highway vehicle" within the meaning of that term as used in the policy. An "uninsured highway vehicle" is defined in the policy to exclude "an insured automobile or a highway vehicle furnished for the regular use of the named insured, his spouse, or a relative." (emphasis added). An "insured automobile" is defined to mean the automobile described in the policy. By policy definition, then, the Bush 1968 Plymouth automobile, as the automobile described in the policy, was not an "uninsured highway vehicle"; instead it was an "insured automobile." Accordingly, appellants cannot show that they were injured by an "uninsured highway vehicle" and are ineligible to recover damages under the "uninsured motorist insurance" section of the policy.

In Miles v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 519 S.W.2d 378 (Mo. App. 1975), the court of appeals addressed a similar question concerning a one vehicle accident. There plaintiff sued his automobile insurer under the uninsured motor vehicle provisions of his policy. Plaintiff pleaded he was injured in a one car accident while a passenger in his own automobile then being driven by his "uninsured" brother, who was "negligently operating an uninsured automobile." There as here, the policy provided that the term "uninsured motor vehicle" shall not include the "insured vehicle." The court found that the policy language refuted plaintiff's contention and that nothing in the insurance policy contravened Missouri public policy as set by the uninsured motorist statute. We agree with the result reached in Miles and the determination that the provision of the policy that the term "uninsured motor vehicle" shall not include an "insured motor vehicle" does not contravene public policy as set by section 379.203, RSMo 1978, which requires liability policies to afford coverage to insureds who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles.

Neither the present case nor Miles involved a two vehicle accident, but we do not read Miles as requiring in a two vehicle accident no more than an inquiry whether any insurance applied to the second vehicle under any circumstances as determinative of whether the vehicle was "insured" or "uninsured" for the purposes of required uninsured motorist coverage. Whether a motor vehicle is insured or uninsured by liability coverage depends on whether the liability coverage is applicable under its terms and conditions in light of the specific circumstances of the vehicle's operation. The liability coverage is applicable if all conditions of the policy are met. Questions of applicability of liability insurance can be answered on the basis of events which precede an accident. For example, a liability policy is not applicable, and hence the vehicle is uninsured, where the automobile is driven by a thief or a non-permissive user, even though the automobile in question is the described automobile of the liability policy.


Appellants maintain that the term "uninsured highway vehicle," as used in the uninsured motorist insurance section of the policy (Section V) is unclear, vague and ambiguous and that such ambiguity must be resolved in favor of coverage. The pertinent definitions in this section state:

"'insured' means:

(a) the named insured, his spouse, and any relative; . . .

* * * *

"'insured automobile' means"

(a) the described automobile;

(b) a non-owned automobile while being operated by the named insured; . . .

* * * *

"'uninsured highway vehicle' means:

(a) a highway vehicle with respect to the ownership, maintenance or use of which there is no bodily injury liability bond or insurance policy applicable at the time of the accident with respect to any person or organization legally responsible for the use of such highway vehicle, or with respect to which there is a bodily injury liability bond or insurance policy applicable at the time of the accident but the company writing the same denies coverage thereunder, or

(b) a hit-and-run highway vehicle; but the term "uninsured highway vehicle" shall not include:

(1) an insured automobile or a highway vehicle furnished for the regular use of the named insured, his spouse, or relative.

(2) a highway vehicle owned or operated by a self-insurer within the meaning of any motor vehicle financial responsibility law, motor carrier law or any similar law,

(3) a highway vehicle owned by any federal, state, territorial, provincial, or municipal government, a political subdivision, department, or agency of any of them,

(4) a highway vehicle operated or used by any person as an employee of the United States Government . . .

(c) an insured highway vehicle where the liability insurer thereof is unable to make payment with respect to the legal liability of its insured within the limits of any applicable financial responsibility law because of insolvency

* * * *

"'hit-and-run highway vehicle' means a highway vehicle which causes bodily injury to an insured arising out of physical contact of such highway vehicle with the insured or with an automobile which the insured is occupying at the time of the accident, provided: (a) there cannot be ascertained the identity of either the operator or owner of...

To continue reading

Request your trial
120 cases
  • Hughes v. Whitmer
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eighth Circuit
    • September 15, 1983
    ...for cause in this case) implies the exclusion of all other things (in this case disciplinary transfers). Harrison v. MFA Mutual Insurance Co., 607 S.W.2d 137, 146 (Mo.1980) (banc); Giloti v. Hamm-Singer Corp., 396 S.W.2d 711, 713 (Mo.1965). If the Missouri legislature had intended to requir......
  • Locey By and Through Locey v. Farmers Ins. Co. of Idaho
    • United States
    • Idaho Court of Appeals
    • October 18, 1988
    ...(Me.1984); Turcotte v. Foremost Ins. Co., 460 A.2d 1369 (Me.1983); Frye v. Frye, 305 Md. 542, 505 A.2d 826 (1986); Harrison v. MFA Mut. Ins. Co., 607 S.W.2d 137 (Mo.1980); Willey v. Farmers Insurance Group, 86 N.M. 325, 523 P.2d 1351 (1974); Dairyland Insurance Company v. Finch, 32 Ohio St.......
  • Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co. v. General Dynamics Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • January 23, 1991
    ...exception term "sudden and accidental". Missouri courts give the terms of an insurance policy their plain meaning. Harrison v. MFA Mutual Ins. Co., 607 S.W.2d 137 (Mo.1980). In an insurance policy, ambiguity arises when there is duplicity, indistinctness or uncertainty of meaning, or when t......
  • Dairyland Ins. Co. v. Finch
    • United States
    • Ohio Supreme Court
    • September 16, 1987
    ...of the General Assembly when promulgating R.C. 3937.18, or the public policy associated with the statute. Accord Harrison v. MFA Mut. Ins. Co. (Mo.1980), 607 S.W.2d 137, 140. See, also, Knapp v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. (1982), 6 Ohio App.3d 53, 55, 6 OBR 217, 220, 453 N.E.2d 1110, 11......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT