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State Car Is the Same As Private ; Court: Insurers Can't Exclude Govt. Agencies

May 8, 2007

By WINTHROP QUIGLEY Journal Staff Writer

Uninsured motorist coverage applies to accidents involving government-owned vehicles even when insurance policies specifically exclude such coverage, the State Supreme Court has ruled.

Writing for a unanimous court, Justice Pamela B. Minzner said the state Legislature intended uninsured motorist coverage to place a policyholder who is injured by an uninsured or underinsured driver in the same position as she would have been if the driver at fault had been properly insured. It shouldn't matter that the vehicle involved was a government vehicle driven by a public employee, Minzner wrote.

The case sprang from a November 2000 accident. Christina Boradiansky was severely injured when a Sandoval County sheriff's deputy driving a government vehicle ran a red light and hit Boradiansky's vehicle broadside.

Claims against public agencies in New Mexico are governed by the state Tort Claims Act, which includes caps on what compensation can be paid. Minzner wrote that Boradiansky accepted payment from the government under terms of that act for an amount less than the legal cap, then filed a claim with her insurance carrier, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., for additional compensation through her uninsured motorist coverage.

State Farm denied her claim, citing terms of the policy that exclude claims resulting from accidents with vehicles owned by government agencies. State Farm also argued that Boradiansky was not legally entitled to payment because Boradiansky sought payment from State Farm that would have exceeded the Tort Claims Act cap.

The court rejected both arguments.

"It seems counterintuitive to suggest that the Legislature intended to create a gap in coverage by permitting a contractual exclusion of government-owned vehicles from uninsured or underinsured motorist claims," Minzner wrote.

"In this case, by virtue of the Tort Claims Act, the government is underinsured with respect to the injuries sustained" by Boradiansky, Minzner added. The Legislature intended uninsured motorist coverage to fix that shortcoming, she wrote.

Minzner also found that the cap on damages in the Tort Claims Act is not a bar to seeking other means of recovering damages.

(c) 2007 Albuquerque Journal. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

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