Independent insurance agent owed no duty to inform insured of gap in coverage
Stanley Nokielski was catastrophically hurt when John Colton struck him in a Midland parking lot with Colton's automobile. Nokielksi sued and it was determined that there was a $400,000.00 gap between Colton's auto coverage of $100,000.00 and his umbrella policy which provided one million dollars of coverage, but required underlying coverage of $500,000.00 before it "kicked in."
Mrs. Colton bought her insurance through an independent agent, A.S. Arbury & Sons, originally, but after marrying Mr. Colton, they switched their auto coverage to a different carrier and agent. They did not change their umbrella coverage and in fact did not even remember that they had umbrella coverage. An employee of the agent claimed that the Coltons had refused to provide the agency with details of the new underlying auto policy, thus preventing the agency from properly coordinating coverage. The Coltons denied that these conversations had occurred, apparently. It didn't matter in any event, however, as the Court of Appeals ruled that the Engler Majority's prior Supreme Court ruling in the Harts case eliminated any duty owed by the Agency to the insureds. Since the insureds never asked the Agency the right questions, the independent agent's only role was to sell insurance. It was not an "insurance adviser" according to the Harts approach, even though it was not a captive agency.