Auto Policy Liability Limits

Parker County lawyers need to know how the liability limits in an auto policy work. The El Paso Court of Appeals issued an opinion in 1989, that explains this pretty well. The style of the case is, Manriquez v. MidCentury Insurance Company. Here is some of the relevant information.
This is an appeal from a summary judgment emanating from a wrongful death suit. This appeals court affirmed the decision.
Appellants are the widow and surviving parents of a pedestrian killed when struck by an automobile driven by an unlicensed minor, Gregory Daniel Alkofer. In addition to suing Gregory for negligent driving, his mother, Barbara, was sued for negligent entrustment; and both were charged with gross negligence.
MidCentury, insurer of the Alkofer automobile, intervened and successfully moved for a declaratory summary judgment limiting its liability to $50,000.00.
Pertinent parts of the policy in question provided:
PART A–LIABILITY COVERAGE Insuring Agreement We will pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which any covered person becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident.
. . . . .
Limit of Liability If separate limits of liability for bodily injury and property damage liability are shown in the Declarations for this coverage the limit of liability for “each person” for bodily injury liability is our maximum limit of liability for all damages for bodily injury sustained by any one person in any one auto accident. Subject to this limit for “each person,” the limit of liability shown in the Declarations for “each accident” for bodily injury liability is our maximum limit of liability for all damages for bodily injury resulting from any one auto accident. The limit of liability shown in the Declarations for “each accident” for property damage liability is our maximum limit of liability for all damages to all property resulting from any one auto accident.
If the limit of liability shown in the Declarations for this coverrage [sic] is for combined bodily injury and property damage liability, it is our maximum limit of liability for all damages resulting from any one auto accident.
This is the most we will pay regardless of the number of:
(1) Covered persons;
(2) Claims made;
(3) Vehicles or premiums shown in the Declarations; or (4) Vehicles involved in the auto accident.
The Alkofer policy provided separate limits of liability for bodily injury and property damage liability in the following amounts: bodily injury–$50,000.00 for each person/$100,000.00 for each accident; property damage–$25,000.00.
Appellants contended that the fact that there are three plaintiffs and two defendants would expand the expressed $50,000.00 liability limitation for “each person” for bodily injury to the $100,000.00 limitation coverage for “each accident”.
The mother was a “covered person” under the policy as an owner of the vehicle, and the son was a “covered person” by using the vehicle. The policy expressly limited the liability to the liability for each person injured in any one accident, regardless of the number of covered persons. The fact that two defendants are being sued would not enlarge this limitation.
The liability for “each person” was limited to damages for bodily injury sustained by any one person in any one auto accident. In another case the court held that an “each person” limitation for damages because of bodily injury sustained by one person as the result of any one occurrence limited all damage claims, directly or consequential, resulting from the death of an injured person. In that case, the policy expressly limited all damages, “including damages for care and loss of services….” Appellant argues the absence of these words in the agreement before the court indicates the intention of the parties to include these types of damages.
The Court in the past interpreted a “per person” limitation policy and the language of Texas Safety Responsibility Law, requiring liability policies to contain a minimum limit because of bodily injury in death of one person in any one accident to refer to the person who is actually involved and physically or emotionally injured in the accident. In the prior case, the Court pointed out that the loss of consortium was not a bodily injury, and that the plaintiff did not allege physical harm or mental anguish. The Appellants argue that this digression implies that, had the plaintiff pleaded for these matters, she would have been entitled to them in excess of the per person limitation. However, in the opinion, the Court analyzed other consistent decisions construing the Texas Safety Responsibility Law, which concluded that the term “per person” referred only to the person or persons sustaining injury and not to persons who suffer a loss as a result of any injury to someone else, and therefore, the per person limitation requirement limited any and all claims. The case actually stands for the opposite of the Appellants’ contention.
Appellant claimed the language is ambiguous, and therefore, should be construed against the insurer. Legal precedent as to the language, as previously discussed, is to the contrary.
Appellant also alleged that appellee failed to establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The court overruled all of the appellants point and sustained the trial court decision.