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Louisiana Supreme Court Extends UM Coverage To Passengers

Louisiana Supreme Court Extends UM Coverage To Passengers

The Louisiana Supreme Court, in Bernard v. Ellis, 11-2377 (La. 7/2/12), 111 So.3d 995, recently ruled that a guest passenger in an insured vehicle should be considered an insured for uninsured/underinsured (UM) coverage purposes. The ruling is based upon an application of Louisiana’s statutory omnibus clause, La. R.S. 32:900(B)(2), which mandates coverage for any person “using any such motor vehicle… with the express or implied permission of such named insured…” (Emphasis added).

Louisiana Courts Previously Denied UM Coverage to Guests

Previously, the Louisiana Supreme Court, in Filipski v. Imperial Fire and Casualty, 25 So.3d 742 (La. 2009), extended UM coverage to permissive users who were drivers. The issue of whether guest passengers should also be afforded the same UM coverage arose when one of Louisiana’s appellate courts, in Baptiste v. Dunn, 68 So.3d 673, (La. App. 1 Cir. 2011), denied UM coverage to guest passengers because, under the policy language and the omnibus statute, the passengers were not considered “using” the vehicle by operation. Other appellate circuits ruled otherwise, thus creating a split in Louisiana’s appellate courts.

Guest passengers Use the Vehicle

In its Bernard opinion, the Supreme Court rejected the Baptiste limitation that guest passengers are not “users”, finding that a guest passenger is “using” the vehicle for transportation, which is an intended purpose or use of the vehicle. Thus, the term “use” now has a broader meeting, and is no longer to be limited to driving/operating the vehicle. The court further explained that this ruling reflects Louisiana’s strong public policy to provide full UM coverage for innocent automobile accident victims and the liberal application of the UM statute as required.

Allen & Gooch is providing this legal update for informational purposes only. This article should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion as to any specific facts or circumstances. You should consult your own attorney concerning your particular situation and any specific legal questions you may have.