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Couple Receives $100,000 After Wife Seeks Own Claim

Declaratory Judgment, Insurance Coverage

  • Location: Callaway County Circuit Court
  • Case Number/Date:12CW-CV01140/March 29, 2013
  • Judge: Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter
  • Caption: Shelter Mutual Insurance v. Jay MacVittie, Debra MacVittie
  • Plaintiffs Attorney: Christopher P. Rackers, Schreimann, Rackers, Francka & Blunt, Jefferson City
  • Defendant’s Attorney: Thomas K. Riley, Riley and Dunlap, Fulton

By ALAN SCHER ZAGIER Special to Missouri Lawyers Weekly

A Callaway County couple who already had received $100,000 in damages for bodily injury to one spouse after a car crash has been awarded an additional $100,000 in a loss of consortium claim their attorney said could have broad implications for similar dual recovery efforts in Missouri.

Jay and Debra MacVittie challenged a Shelter Mutual Insurance policy on pickup driver John C. McCray. Jay MacVittie had been seriously injured in a May 2012 crash with McCray while operating his 2004 Harley Davidson Road King motorcycle on Route J in Callaway.

Shelter’s policy set a bodily injury limit of $100,000 for each person and $300,000 for each accident. The company initially paid out that amount to Jay MacVittie, but his wife sought her own claim for loss of consortium, arguing that the “each person” limit did not apply to her separate claim.

The couple cited Shelter policy language that reads, “The limit of liability stated in the declarations for coverage for ‘each person’ is the limit of our liability for all damages arising out of one person’s bodily injuries from one occurrence. This limit includes all damages to others resulting from that person’s bodily injury whether direct or derivative in nature.”

Shelter sued the MacVitties last November, seeking declaratory judgment that the “each person” limitation in its policy included claims made for loss of consortium – and that the couple could only recover $100,000 total for both spouses’ claims.

Fulton attorney Tom Riley, who represented the couple, cited a ruling in the 1983 case Cano vs. Travelers Insurance Co. that allows both spouses to recover damages depending on how the policy language referring to the “each person” limit was worded.

The Cano ruling led most insurers to rewrite policies to eliminate ambiguities, he said, but Shelter’s definition of damages didn’t include loss of consortium claims.

Circuit Judge Christine Carpenter agreed and awarded the MacVitties an additional $100,000. An attorney representing Shelter declined to comment, noting that the company plans to appeal the ruling.

“There’s a new route for recovery if it’s upheld,” Riley said.