Washington v. GEICO Ins. Co., 2014 Ohio App. LEXIS 4280 (Ohio Ct. App. Oct. 2, 2014)

Coverage precluded for passenger who did not meet definition of “insured” under policy.

This appeal from judgment in favor of GEICO concerned an injured passenger’s claim for uninsured/underinsured (UM/UIM) motorist benefits under an auto policy issued to the operator of the vehicle she was occupying at the time of the motor vehicle accident. The insurer, GEICO, denied coverage to the passenger, Washington, claiming that Washington did not meet the definition of an “insured” under the policy and was precluded from receiving UM/UIM benefits. In her appeal, Washington claimed that the UM/UIM policy language was ambiguous because the UM/UIM section heading suggested that all passengers were entitled to coverage. Rather, the body of the policy indicated that UM/UIM coverage was afforded only to insureds and that the policy explicitly excluded coverage for individuals who were not insureds. The court found that: (a) Washington was not a party to the contract and that she lacked standing to assert that an ambiguity in the policy should be interpreted in her favor; (b) the language of a heading in a policy is not controlling; (c) “the heading… at issue fails to create an ambiguity that would alter the expressed language of the body of the policy”; and (d) to adopt Washington’s interpretation “would expand coverage otherwise limited by the plain and unambiguous definition of who is an insured for UM/UIM coverage under the GEICO policy.”

Case Law Alerts, 1st Quarter, January 2015