Question: Does the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease that occurs while an individual is occupying a motor vehicle constitute “bodily injury” arising out of the “ownership, maintenance or use” of that motor vehicle?
Although one would anticipate the commonsense answer to be a resounding “NO,” Senior Judge Fernando Gaitan of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri was recently called on to decide this very issue. Yes, you read that correctly: a Senior United States District Judge – one who has enjoyed a distinguished career, being called upon to decide issues of far-reaching constitutional magnitude – surprisingly found himself weighing in on this most nettlesome of subjects.
For months this seemingly absurd dispute has garnered national headlines. However, the focus has not been on the coverage litigation before Judge Gaitan. Instead, the focus has centered on the litigation in which the participants in the “transmission” jointly sought to secure a $5,200,000.00 judgment to be collected from GEICO, which insured the vehicle in which the transmission is alleged to have occurred. The Judgment is being sought following an arbitration that occurred after GEICO denied coverage for the loss and the parties then entered into a 537.065 agreement. Insurers and litigators throughout Missouri have of course become well acquainted with these arbitration proceedings. However, that arbitration process was generally associated with the 2017 amendments to the statute which were subsequently amended in 2021.
In the end – at long last – the citizens of Kansas can rest easier knowing that common sense (which apparently, as they say, is not so common) has prevailed and a significant question of law has now been definitively answered. Although involving Kansas law, Judge Gaitan’s ruling is consistent with Missouri case law involving similar issues such as dog bites, shootings and other intentional actions occurring inside of a motor vehicle.
Following the statutory changes, hopefully GEICO v. M.O. will be among the last of these 537.065/arbitration matters faced by Missouri insurers – in addition to finally resolving a coverage issue that, according to the Defendant, potentially impacts up to 50% of Americans.