The Georgia Court of Appeals has reversed a judge’s ruling that a couple killed in a car wreck had two uninsured motorist polices and that their estate was due $500,000 under each one.
The appellate opinion said that, while Allstate Insurance did indeed issue two individually numbered policies to the couple to cover multiple vehicles, the insurer did so to meet internal requirements related to the number of vehicles one policy can cover.
They served as only one policy for the purposes of billing and claim coverage, it said.
The Aug. 24 opinion overturns a summary judgment order by Bartow County Superior Shepherd Howell, who ruled that each policy carried $500,000 in UM coverage.
As reflected in the opinion and online reports, Russell and Karen Musgrove were killed in 2014 when their vehicle was rear-ended and forced off I-75. The at-fault driver, Charles Porter, was charged with offenses including homicide by vehicle, having an open container of alcohol and possession of marijuana. He was convicted on the vehicular homicide and marijuana charges and is serving 15 years in prison.
The Musgroves purchased coverage for five vehicles under two different policy numbers, as well as additional uninsured motorist coverage with policy limits of $250,000 per person or $500,000 per accident.
After the accident, Allstate tendered $250,000 for each of the deceased, for a total of $500,000.
The Musgrove’s sons, Russell Musgrove Jr. and Jeffrey Musgrove, filed a wrongful death suit against Porter and Allstate, seeking coverage under both purported UM policies.
After being named in the suit, Allstate filed for summary judgment. The sons and the estate filed a cross motion for summary judgment, arguing they were entitled to an additional $500,000.
In a one-paragraph order issued in January, Howell agreed with the Musgroves, ruling there were two policies, each providing $250,000 per person/$500,000 per accident.
Appeals Court Judge Gary Andrews, writing with the concurrence of Judges John Ellington and Brian Rickman, agreed with Allstate that there was only one UM policy in effect.
While there were two differently numbered policies at the time of the accident, one covering three vehicles and the other two vehicles, the policy declarations were “unambiguous” that the additional UM coverage was only charged to one of them, Andrews wrote.
“Even assuming the policy declarations were ambiguous as to whether the Musgroves had purchased one UM coverage endorsement or two,” he wrote, “the parol evidence shows that, despite the different policy numbers, there was only a single policy, with a total of $500,000 in UM overage.”
Andrews noted an Allstate employee’s affidavit stated the insurer’s computer system only allowed a maximum of four vehicles to be listed on a single policy and that any additional vehicles would be covered under a separately numbered policy.
The Musgroves’ renewal notice included the bold-faced notice that “All your vehicles are insured under one single policy, which means you’ll only have one policy effective date and receive only one bill for the coverage of these vehicles,” he wrote.
Quoting the appeals court’s 2004 ruling in a similar case, Smith v. Allstate Ins. Co., 268 Ga. App. 229, Smith Andrews wrote, “‘Allstate could not have made it plainer that it was issuing one contract, albeit in two sections,’ such that the insured was entitled to only one insurance payment.”
The Musgroves are represented by Scott McMickle and Chandler Smith of Alpharetta’s McMickle, Kurey & Branch.
In an email, Smith said he and his clients “are considering our options and will probably ask the Supreme Court to review the decision as we believe it is wrong for several reasons.”
Allstate’s attorneys, Frederick Valz III and Melissa Bailey of Carlock Copeland & Stair, did not respond to requests for comment.