Auto Accident


Case filed in the City of St. Louis

$275,000.00 Civil Settlement

Issues:  Vehicle left the scene; Uninsured Motorist coverage; “excited utterance” exception to hearsay rule; Stacking of uninsured policy limits

Parties: Passenger v. Driver and passenger’s parents’ uninsured motorist insurance company.

Type of Claim: Plaintiff was a passenger in vehicle that was forced off of a two-lane road and overturned.  Driver claimed at the scene that another vehicle coming in the opposite direction crossed the centerline, forcing her to swerve, lose control and overturn.  The other vehicle left the scene and could not be identified.  Because an unknown vehicle was partially at fault, claims were made against the driver’s uninsured motorist liability policy and her parents’ uninsured motorist liability policy as well.

Damages Alleged: Passenger sustained a minor skull fracture when the car rolled.  Passenger lost her right eye, and required reconstructive surgery.

Liability Analysis: Driver was the only witness claiming that another vehicle caused her to lose control, and driver was legally intoxicated at the time pursuant to lawful testing. Another passenger in the backseat of the car told the police she saw no other vehicle, although at his deposition he stated he was not sure if he just didn’t see such a vehicle.  Injured passenger did not recall the accident due to head trauma.  People on the scene immediately after the crash thought driver was lying.  Driver had a liability policy limit of $50,000.00, and uninsured motorist coverage of $50,000.00, however, the injured passenger was a resident of her parents’ household, and although she was an excluded driver, she was still insured under her parents’ liability policy.  This added additional coverage amounts.

Since driver was charged with a felony DWI, she refused to testify under oath about the collision, and would not testify on the issue of the existence of another vehicle that cause the collision.

The insurance company moved for summary judgment regarding the uninsured motorist coverage on the basis that the only evidence of a phantom vehicle was inadmissible hearsay statement of the driver.  However, the Court overruled the insurer’s motion for judgment.  Based upon our argument and research, the court held that an exception to the hearsay rule, for an “excited utterance,” applied, and said the issue was for a jury to decide.  The jury would therefore hear the evidence.   The excited utterance exception provides that the statement of a witness made under extreme duress can be admitted into evidence through witnesses to the statement, since a statement made immediately under duress at the time of the incident is likely to be reliable as the witness did not have an opportunity to formulate a lie.  Since the witnesses at the scene testified that the driver was hysterical and crying, her first statement relayed through the witnesses including the police, was not hearsay and the question of whether another vehicle contributed to cause the collision was for a jury to decide, based on that first statement alone.

Damages Analysis: Passenger’s injuries included a fractured skull, loss of her right eye, concussion and disfigurement.

Settlement: Just prior to trial was $275,000.00.


Key words

Uninsured motorist, stacking coverage, hearsay, excited utterance

Eye injury