The Missouri Supreme Court ruled that, because the insurer was not given the opportunity to intervene in the case before judgement was entered, the earlier court ruling should be vacated.
Geico does not have to pay $5.2 million to a Missouri woman, who alleged she contracted a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in a car insured by the company—for now, at least.
Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled to overturn the lower Missouri Court of Appeals' ruling that said Geico must pay the $5.2 million settlement granted to the woman, identified as M.O. The state Supreme Court ruled that, because the insurer was not given the opportunity to intervene in the case before judgment was entered, the earlier court ruling should be vacated and sent back to a lower court.
In February 2021, M.O. filed the suit to seek monetary damages, alleging she contracted HPV from an insured member in his automobile. She contended the man caused her to be infected with the STD despite being aware of his condition and the risks of unprotected sex.
Did she have a case? The lawsuit prompted questions and doubts among the insurance industry as to whether or not Geico's personal auto policy covers injuries from STDs, with the carrier's failure to mimic ISO's wording potentially leaving it vulnerable to covering the exposure.
Geico declined the settlement, sending the case to arbitration. In May 2021, the arbitrator found that the man “directly caused, or directly contributed to cause" the infection, awarding M.O. the settlement.
At that time, Geico sought to intervene in the case, filing motions seeking a new hearing of the evidence and for the award to be thrown out, saying the judgment violated the company's rights to due process and the arbitration agreement was unenforceable.
Geico appealed after those requests were denied, but the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that the lower court did not make a mistake by denying the company's motions. The appeals court found Geico did not have a right to “relitigate those issues" once damages had been determined and a judgment was entered, and that Geico must pay the settlement.
In last week's ruling, however, the Missouri Supreme Court found that Geico was entitled to intervene in the lawsuit and was not given the opportunity to do so before the judgment was entered. As a result, the previous judgment has been vacated and the case is remanded to the lower court.
Geico is also fighting the award in a related federal court case, asking for a declaratory judgment that its policy doesn't cover M.O.'s injuries and it isn't liable for M.O.'s STD infection. This has been transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri.
AnneMarie McPherson Spears is IA news editor.