The S.C. Court of Appeals has upheld the validity of the fleeing from law enforcement and commission of felony exclusions contained in a personal automobile policy. Nationwide Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Walls, et al., Opinion No. 5653.
J.R. Murphy of Murphy & Grantland, P.A. presented the case and successfully argued that the issue was not controlled by the South Carolina Supreme Court decision in Williams v. Gov’t Employees Ins. Co. (GEICO), 409 S.C. 586, 762 S.E.2d 705 (2014), which had invalidated a family member exclusion on public policy grounds. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed the trial court which relied on the Williams decision, holding that both exclusions operated as a “step-down” to reduce the stated limits to the statutory minimum since neither violated the statutory schemes of Title 38 or 56. The court found that the exclusions themselves unambiguously limited coverage to the statutory minimum for injuries occurring during the commission of a felony or while the insured was fleeing from law enforcement. The court rejected Respondents’ position that the Williams decision and South Carolina Code § 38-77-142 prohibited any type of step down provision. To the contrary, the court accepted Nationwide’s position that Williams was limited to the family member exclusion which created separate classes of claimants and was not based upon the conduct of the putative insured. This published opinion is authority to support many standard policy exclusions that operate as step-down provisions including intentional acts, servicing of automobiles and other commonly found exclusions.
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Should you have any questions about the holding in this case or its implications for other claims involving various policy exclusions, please don’t hesitate to contact J.R. Murphy at 803-454-1231 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.