By Brian D. Sullivan, Esq.

In order to present an uninsured motorist claim when an accident is caused by an unidentified vehicle, a claimant must present independent corroborative evidence demonstrating that the accident was caused by the negligence of a phantom vehicle.  The Ohio Supreme Court recently determined that this requirement can now be met using evidence derived from the insured’s own testimony.  Smith v. Erie Ins. Co., Slip Opinion No. 2016-Ohio-7742. 

In Smith, the plaintiff sought uninsured motorist benefits for injuries arising out of an automobile accident involving a phantom driver.  Plaintiff claimed that he sustained injuries when he swerved his truck off the roadway and into several trees in response to an unidentified vehicle that crossed the center line and into his lane of traffic.   The unidentified driver who caused the accident did not make physical contact with plaintiff’s vehicle and fled the scene.   Plaintiff called 911 and reported the accident to the police, giving a description of the unidentified vehicle.  Additionally, plaintiff’s version of the accident was memorialized in his medical records for the treatment he received for his injuries.  There was no physical evidence at the accident scene which confirmed plaintiff’s story. 

Plaintiff submitted a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under his Erie insurance policy.  Erie denied the claim based upon the fact that its policy required plaintiff to submit independent corroborative evidence that his injuries were the result of the negligence of an uninsured motorist.  Erie rejected plaintiff’s submission of the police report and medical records on the basis that a version of the accident contained in those records was based upon plaintiff’s description of the accident and, as such, did not constitute independent corroborative evidence.

Under Ohio law, an insurance company cannot deny uninsured motorist coverage based upon the fact that there is no physical contact between a phantom vehicle and an insured’s vehicle.  Rather, Revised Code § 3927.18(B) provides that independent corroborative evidence must exist to prove that an accident was caused by the negligence of an unidentified motor vehicle when the identity of the owner or operator cannot be determined.  The statute goes on to provide that testimony of any insured seeking recovery from an insurer shall not constitute independent corroborative evidence unless the testimony is supported by additional evidence.  In this case, the Supreme Court rejected Erie’s determination that plaintiff’s statements contained within the police report and medical records was not sufficient additional evidence to constitute independent corroborative evidence.  In so holding, the court concluded that the insured is only required to submit additional evidence, not necessarily third party testimony.  The court concluded that the evidence need only be additional and supportive and not independent third party testimony.   According to the Supreme Court, the police report and the medical records constituted additional evidence satisfying the independent corroborative evidence requirement.

The court’s holding broadens the circumstances under which an insurer may be required to provide uninsured motorist coverage.  In cases where an uninsured motorist claim is based upon an accident arising out of a phantom vehicle, the independent corroborative evidence test will be satisfied.  When an insured can present additional evidence which memorializes his or her version of how the accident happened, insurers are encouraged to review all of the evidence submitted in support of an uninsured motorist claim to determine whether the court’s holding has been satisfied and sufficient additional evidence has been submitted which constitutes independent corroborative evidence. 

Feel free to contact any member of Reminger’s Insurance Coverage /Bad Faith Practice Group with respect to any question regarding the application of this decision to any particular claim, or other issue involving coverage insurance. 

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.


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