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In accidents involving an unidentified “phantom” vehicle that never made physical contact but caused a collision, an uninsured-motorist (UM) carrier cannot require its insured to provide corroborative evidence as proof the accident occurred, the Alabama Supreme Court held on May 10. Walker v. GuideOne Specialty Mut. Ins. Co., No. 1000964. A policy provision rejecting the insured’s own testimony could not be enforced, the court said, because it excluded the insured from coverage to which she was legally entitled under Alabama’s UM statute. The ruling was issued in Lola M. Walker’s appeal of a declaratory judgment that she was not entitled to UM coverage under her GuideOne policy. Walker claimed that an oncoming vehicle crossed into her lane, causing her to swerve and hit a tree. The resulting fire injured her and killed her husband. The unidentified vehicle did not stop, so Walker was the only witness to the alleged accident. Because Walker’s policy with GuideOne contained a fraud-deterrent provision that said the carrier would not accept testimony from anyone making a claim, the trial court granted summary judgment to the carrier, relying on a 1999 intermediate appellate court case. Reversing, the state’s highest court said carriers could not contractually raise the evidentiary burden of proof. Under Alabama’s UM law, a motorist is “legally entitled” to damages if he or she presents substantial evidence to survive a motion for summary judgment and the fact-finder is reasonably satisfied from the evidence that he or she should recover damages. Walker’s own testimony would constitute substantial evidence, the high court said, so summary judgment was inappropriate. Distinguishing contrary holdings from other jurisdictions, the court said those states had laws that expressly required corroborative evidence to prove the existence of phantom vehicles, while Alabama’s UM law was silent on the matter.

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