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  1. CAR INSURANCE: Read your automobile insurance policy and check with your insurance agent about appropriate coverage for your college student. Keep proof of insurance coverage in the vehicle. Make sure you and your new college student understand the types of coverage that you have BEFORE you need it. Is your student covered on your policies? The answer may depend on whether the car is titled to the parents or the student or other variables.   Talk to your insurance agent. I recommend that you make sure you have adequate liability coverage, uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage. Also, medical payments coverage can help with medical bills for anyone injured in your child’s vehicle and it is relatively inexpensive to purchase.  Remember, if she is involved in an accident, medical bills and other damages can accumulate quickly. Lastly, ask your insurance agent about discounts. Many companies offer good student discounts or other discounts for college students.
  2. KNOW WHAT TO DO IN THE EVENT OF AN ACCIDENT: If there is an automobile accident, first check to see if anyone is injured. If so, call 911 immediately to get emergency help. If possible, exchange information with the other party, including name, phone number and insurance information. Smartphones make it easy to take pictures and notes at the accident scene. This is important because details are often forgotten even a few days later. However, to protect against identity theft, do not allow anyone to take a copy of your driver’s license.   Even if no one is injured, make sure the police are called to get an accident report. This is especially important if the other driver is at fault. The officer may take witness statements as well as document important facts regarding the accident scene and damage to the automobiles. As soon as practicable following the accident, contact your insurance company and report the accident.
  3. KNOW WHAT TO DO IF A FRIEND WRECKS YOUR CAR: Car insurance generally follows the car and not the driver for most coverages. What this means is that if you lend your car to a friend and your friend wrecks it, it is YOUR insurance that will pay for any liability claims. You must have collision coverage on the car in order for it to pay for any property damage to the car. If your friend causes damages to another person or their property that exceeds the amount of liability insurance coverage on your car, you or your parents may be held liable for expenses that exceed your insurance coverage limits.   Also, there is an added risk of you or your parents being held responsible if your friend has a history of driving violations or risky behavior. Some insurance companies only provide “step-down” coverage for drivers that are not named insureds on the policy. This means that a friend operating your vehicle may not have as much insurance coverage as you would if you wrecked the same car.   Again, it is wise to check with your insurance agent BEFORE an accident occurs.
  4. CAR MAINTENANCE: Keep the car in good repair. Before your student heads out, make sure the vehicle is up to date on oil changes and other required maintenance so as to avoid breaking down on the road or in a new city.   Make sure the tires are adequate for the weather and type of driving they will be doing. Having a back up plan such as Onstar or AAA, which includes roadside assistance, also helps. As a parent, it provides some often needed peace of mind.   Although you may have been in charge of regular maintenance while both the child and car were at home, your young adult may now be in the best position to know if there is a possible problem with the car. Be sure to discuss as a family, how to handle those maintenance issues.

The attorneys at Tatlow, Gump, Faiella and Wheelan, LLC, have years of experience regarding automobile accidents, serious injury, wrongful deaths, and disputes involving insurance coverages. Please call us for a free consultation if you or someone you love needs legal advice regarding these matters.

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By: Amanda Drew
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This November there will be many non-partisan judges asking for Missourians to vote to keep them on the bench. How do you decide who will get your vote?

One resource you may want to consider is Judging the Judges 2010, a website provided by the Missouri Bar’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Committee. They gathered data and opinions from all judges seeking retention and conducted an extensive evaluation of each. By familiarizing yourself with the judges you will be asked to vote on, you will be making a well informed decision.

Non-partisan judges make up a very important part of our legal system here in Missouri, and we are a model for other states. Having non-partisan judges helps keep politics out of our courtrooms. For more information on Missouri’s non-partisan court plan, visit the Show Me Courts website.

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The Severe Weather resources page is just one of the many helpful resources for people available on the Missouri Department of Insurance website. There are instructions on how to make sure you have appropriate insurance coverage, how to file storm damage claims, resources for flood victims, information on crop insurance and many other things.

If your property has sustained damaged in a storm and your insurance is denying coverage, contact Tatlow, Gump, Faiella & Wheelan, LLC to see if we can help you.

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Google, one of today’s most innovative companies seems to have a never ending line up of great ideas. One of these is its autonomous vehicle which literally drives itself. A story in The Atlantic, reports that the vehicle has never gotten a ticket, but if they do google want its corporate person to get the ticket. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/05/googles-self-driving-cars-have-never-gotten-a-ticket/371172/
That is all very good, but who will be responsible for the inevitable car accidents that will happen. Will Google be named as a defendant along side the human “driver”, or will the human be left out of the equation. When an owner of a Google vehicle is struck by another person and sues, will Google be involved if the defendant raises the issue of comparative fault? Will the owner’s auto insurance defend Google? Will owners even need liability insurance? Will Google carry auto insurance on every vehicle it sells for the rest of the time the vehicle is on the road? If so will Google maintain only the minimum liability limits? Will it carry or be required to carry uninsured motorist coverage or underinsured motorist coverage?
These are just a few of the thorny questions that jump to mind, but many more complex questions must be answered before autonomous vehicles can be allowed on the public streets for mass consumption. Google is still working on its self driving masterpiece, but even if the product was ready today, the law and the insurance market will have lots of adapting to do before our legal system and insurance system can accommodate an autonomous vehicle. These adaptations will have to be well though out and applied across our country so that these vehicles can travel from one State to the next just as existing vehicle do today.
As an advocate for auto safety I think Google’s autonomous vehicle hold really promise for reducing injuries and deaths, but common everyday vehicle accidents can’t turn into major product liability cases. Part of the justice provided by the insurance and legal system is an ordered, cost effective system of resolving claims. Most auto injury claims are resolved through settlement either pre-suit or post suit and a small portion of claims that can’t be resolved go to trial. This process can take time, but in most car injury cases there are not major corporations who have a stake in defending a product or their image. The system could be severally undermined if individuals harmed in automobile collisions and defendants accused of causing the harm have to bring in a major corporation into the case. If this comes to pass there is a real risk that resolving claims would become more complex, more costly and take longer.
Many parties have an interest or stake in the liability system in the United States, including the driving public, insurance companies, courts, lawyers, medical providers, businesses and government. If the autonomous car becomes a reality careful planning will be needed to insure that the benefits gained don’t outweigh the harm caused. Given the United Stated multi-layered legal system of Federal, State and local laws, and the unknown impact on the interested parties it is likely that the autonomous car’s legal future will be bumpy.

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An insurance broker is a person or more commonly a business selling insurance of various insurance companies through its business. Lay people often think of brokers as insurance agents or even insurance companies. However, brokers are not insurance agents, who generally are employee or agents for an insurance company, and brokers are not insurance companies.

The general rule is that a broker is primarily an agent of the person who first employed him, and where he is employed to procure insurance he is an agent of the person for whom the insurance is procured in so far as matters connected to the matters of procurement are concerned. Travelers Indemnity Company v. Baty, 523 S.W. 2d 534, 538 (Mo. App. W.D. 1975). However, there are exceptions to the rule. For example, any agent or broker authorized and acting in capacity as a resident agent of a foreign insurer acts on behalf of the insurer, not the insured. Diplomat Homes, Inc. v. Commercial Standard Ins. Co., 394 F. Supp 558 (W.D. Mo. 1975), and Section 375.901. Also, depending upon the facts of a particular case a broker may be an agent of the insurer or dual agent of both the insurer and the insured depending on the particular facts. See Graue v. Missouri Property Insurance Placement Facility, 847 S.W. 2d 779, 783 (Mo banc 1993).

In Missouri a broker is usually the agent of the insured, but additional facts may lead to the broker being found to be an agent or the insurer or the agent of both. This issue is very important because in the absence of fraud on the part of an insured, or his agent, an insurance company is bound by all acts, contracts, representations of its agent, whether general or special, which are within the scope of his real or apparent authority, not withstanding they are in violation of private instructions or limitations on his authority, which the person dealing within, acting in good faith, has neither an actual or constructive knowledge. Baker v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company, 427 S.W. 2d 281, 285-86 (Mo. App. W.D. 1968).

To find apparent agency the appearance of authority must have been created by the principle. Dudley v. Dumont, 526 S.W. 2d 839, 845 (Mo. App. E.D. 1975). Although no actual authority in such respect has been conferred, an insurer is still bound by acts and contracts of it agents as are within the apparent scope of authority with which he has been clothed, that is, the authority which although not actually granted, the insurer knowingly permits the agent to exercise. Travelers Indemnity Company v. Beaty, 523 S.W. 2d 534, 538. By virtue of such apparent authority, a soliciting agent may bind the company by agreements and representation made in connection with the application for insurance which he has the power to take. Id.

In practice this general rule means that if an insured makes a request of a broker, and the broker misinforms the insurer of the facts, the insurer can rescind or avoid the obligation because the broker is the agent of the insured and not the insurer. However where one of the exceptions apply a broker is the agent of the insurer and his act caused a policy to be bound or fail the insurance company may be held liable. Examples include a broker who binds a risk, or allows a policy to lapse, or fails to insurer the correct person or property, or causes the policy to be endorsed improperly.

In cases where a broker and insurance company are being pursued for liability it is important to fully investigate the relationship between the broker and the insurance company. The broker and the agent will have a written agreement between them explaining their relationship, but there may be more than one agreement. Many insurance companies hire brokers to do claim administration, and investigation of claims. Insurance companies often provide forms, instructions, policy manuals and marketing materials that may evidence an agency relationship. Financial transactions, payments, indemnity agreements, E & O insurance polices may also provide useful information concerning the relationship between the broker and the insurance company.

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I PAID FOR UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE, SO I AM COVERED IF I’M IN AN ACCIDENT, RIGHT?

The answer is maybe, but perhaps not as much as you may think. In a case recently decided by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, the plaintiff Valerie Naeger was unable to recover any underinsured motorist coverage from her own Farmer’s Insurance Company policy. This is true even though she had purchased underinsured motorist protection with limits of $250,000 per person/ $500,000 per occurrence. Naeger v. Farmers Ins. Co., Inc., Case No. ED100012 (Mo. Ct. App. May 6, 2014.)

In October 2009, Naeger was a passenger in a friend’s vehicle when it was struck by an underinsured motor vehicle negligently operated by David Kupsky, resulting in serious injury to Naeger. She settled with Kupsky’s liability insurance carrier for the limits of his coverage. Her friend Mark Gessford was insured for underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) and she settled with his insurance as well, but together, the available insurance coverage was not enough to fully compensate her for her damages.

Ms. Naeger then filed a claim for underinsured motorist coverage with her own insurance company for the remainder of her uncompensated damages, but Farmer’s Insurance Co. denied her claim. Little did she know, there was an exclusion in her automobile policy that excluded underinsured motorist coverage if the vehicle she was occupying was a vehicle she did not own which had any underinsured motorist coverage. Although she filed suit based on alleged ambiguities in the policy and reasonable expectations of coverage, the courts upheld the policy exclusion and denied her any underinsured motorist coverage on her own automobile insurance policy.

The irony of the situation is that if Ms. Naeger had been a passenger in her own vehicle or if her friend’s vehicle had NO underinsured coverage, then she would have been entltled to the entire $250,000 policy limits of underinsured motorist coverage for which she paid premiums.

If you have questions or concerns about your automobile coverage, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Tatlow, Gump, Faiella & Wheelan, LLC.

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The Missouri Department of Insurance recently announced a settlement they reached with Nationwide Insurance Company and Farmland Insurance Company for mistreatment of their policyholders. In market conduct examinations, the MODOI found that these companies didn’t apply the same standards to all customers, improperly calculated Second Injury Fund rates and utilized base rates they hadn’t filed with the MODOI as required. For more information about this settlement, which netted policyholders $250,000 collectively, read the press release here.

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Sidney Wheelan, a partner with Tatlow, Gump, Faiella & Wheelan, LLC is the featured presenter in an upcoming webinar on Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Claims.

The webinar, entitled “Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist Claims: Leveraging Insurance Stacking” will take place on Thursday, December 5, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. PST. The webinar will last approximately 90 minutes and will include a live question and answer session with the presenters.

Ms. Wheelan is a recognized expert in the field of Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist claims. She has successfully handled many lawsuits in this area of law, including several appellate cases on the subject. It would be a beneficial webinar to attend for any attorney practicing in the areas of personal injury and auto accident cases.

For more information, or to register for this webinar, visit the Strafford website here.

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The Missouri Department of Insurance has reached a settlement with New York Life.

New York Life is one of the largest insurance companies in the nation. They became the subject of an investigation by multiple state departments of insurance for their practices on how life insurance benefits and annuities were paid out. Many other similar insurance companies have also been investigated and sued for similar practices recently. Visit the Missouri Department of Insurance News release for more information.

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Missouri is one of the states which has elected not to construct their own website to assist citizens in signing up for federal health insurance. Instead, Missouri is relying on the Federal website, Healthcare.gov, which has proved to be difficult, if not impossible for citizens to properly utilize thus far. See this news article for further discussion.