OR Case Update: First-Party UIM Claims at Trial: Can You Exclude Policy Limits?

From the desk of Katie D. Buxman: In the unlikely event that a first-party underinsured motorist (UIM) case goes to trial, it is often advantageous to make a motion before trial to exclude mention of insurance policies and policy limits. However, this strategy is not always available–as the following Oregon Court of Appeals case reveals.

Claims Pointer: In the following case, an insurer denied UIM coverage and the case went to trial. The trial court granted the insurer’s motion to exclude evidence of the policy limits and the jury returned a verdict for the insurer. The Court of Appeals reversed that ruling, however, because at the end of trial, the insurer would not stipulate that the responsible driver was underinsured. The takeaway from this case is that if you intend to exclude policy limits, you better be prepared to stipulate that there is an underinsured driver.

Thoens v. Safeco Insurance Co. of Oregon, 272 Or App 512 (July 22, 2015).

Susann Thoens (Thoens) was injured in an auto accident with an underinsured driver. Thoens was treated by her husband (a chiropractor in the office in which she worked) and then later saw a number of doctors that led to surgery on four levels of her cervical spine. Thoens’ medical bills totaled more than $200,000.

Thoens recovered $50,000 from the responsible driver. She then sought personal injury protection (PIP) benefits and UIM coverage from her insurer, Safeco Insurance Co. of Oregon (Safeco). Thoens had $500,000 in UIM coverage. Safeco initially paid Thoens her PIP benefits but cut off payment after an independent medical evaluation revealed that her treatment was unnecessary. Safeco denied UIM benefits altogether. The case went to trial and a jury awarded Thoens her PIP benefits but found for Safeco on the UIM claim. Thoens appealed.

Thoens first argued that the trial court should not have excluded evidence of insurance policy limits. At trial, Safeco made a motion to exclude any mention of either the responsible...

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