Westfield Insurance Company avoids underinsured motorist obligation through deceptive coverage
Mark Robbins drove a wrecker for Ken's Service in Antrim County. He was dispatched to pull a police cruiser out of the ditch and was operating the wrecker's boom controls to extract the cruiser when he was struck by a negligent motorist. His "substantial" accident injuries left him "crippled for life" but the at-fault driver carried only $100,000.00 of liability coverage. Robbins and his employer thought that Robbins would have additional coverage (up to $1,000,000.00) through the Underinsured Motorist Coverage (UIM) that Ken's Service purchased from Westfield Insurance Company. Unfortunately, they hadn't read the fine print.
The Westfield policy provided UIM coverage to supplement negligent actors' purchased liability coverage, but in the fine print, the coverage applied to Ken's owners, employees, drivers and passengers only if they were "occuplying" the wreck. Westfield filed a Declaratory Judgment action against Robbins and Ken's, seeking a ruling that even though Robbins was leaning on the truck operating the boom controls, he could not claim UIM benefits.
The Court of Appeals held that Robbins was not "occupying" or "upon" the vehicle when he was struck, and therefore ineligible for UIM coverage. Since UIM coverage is not a mandatory coverage required under state law, insurers are free to write any restrictions they choose into the coverage. Since insurer-oriented Republicans captured a majority of the Michigan Supreme Court, insurance policies are no longer interpreted according to the insured's "reasonable expectations." Since Westfield did not include the phrase "operator" in its coverage, Robbins was not entitled to any part of the one million dollars of UIM coverage that Ken's had purchased to protect its drivers.