INSURANCE – UIM carrier not identified at trial if not advance per Coots: William Mattingly, et al. v. William E. Stinson, et al. Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company v. William E. Stinson, et al. (SC 4/23/2009)

William Mattingly, et al. v. William E. Stinson, et al. Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company v. William E. Stinson, et al.
2007-SC-000221-DG April 23, 2009 2007-SC-000222-DG April 23, 2009
Opinion by Justice Cunningham. Justice Abramson not sitting.

Stinson sued Mattingly and Stinson’s underinsured motorist carrier (KFB) for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident. Before trial, Mattingly’s motion to prohibit reference to UIM coverage was granted. The jury returned a verdict in Mattingly’s favor—finding Stinson 100% at fault. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial, holding that prohibiting reference to UIM coverage violated the rule set forth in Earle v. Cobb. In Earle, the Court held that a UIM carrier must be identified at trial when it had chosen to preserve its subrogation rights by means of the procedure set forth in Coots v. Allstate. The purpose of Earle was to eliminate the “legal fiction” that occurs when the name of the tortfeasor is substituted for the UIM carrier for trial purposes. The Court noted that in this case, KFB did not enter into a Coots settlement and therefore did not substitute its own liability for Mattingly’s—thus there was no legal fiction presented to the jury.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the jury verdict, declining to extend Earle to trials where the UIM carrier has not availed itself of the Coots procedure to subrogate its rights. Justice Scott concurred in result only, disagreeing with the majority’s suggestion that both a Coots settlement and participation at trial are needed to trigger identification of the UIM carrier as a party at trial.

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