The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District has affirmed a $5.2 million judgment against Geico in a case involving a Jackson County woman who contracted anogenital human papillomavirus (HPV) during sexual encounters in a car insured by the company.
Geico had appealed the judgment by the Circuit Court of Jackson County confirming an arbitration award against Geico’s insured, M.B., and in favor of M.O., the woman who contracted HPV. Geico argued the trial court erred in confirming the arbitration award without giving the insurer an opportunity to defend itself.
M.O. and M.B. began a romantic relationship in November 2017, at which time M.B.’s car was insured by Geico. M.O. claims she and the insured engaged in unprotected sexual activities in the insured’s car, and during those encounters, the insured negligently infected her with HPV by not taking proper precautions and neglecting to inform and/or disclose his diagnosis despite having known of his condition.
In February 2021, M.O. informed Geico of a petition she intended to file against the insured and made a final settlement offer to resolve her claims for the applicable limits of $1 million. Geico denied coverage and refused M.O.’s settlement offer.
In March 2021, M.O. and the insured agreed to arbitrate M.O.’s claims. The arbitrator determined the sexual activity in the insured’s car “directly caused, or directly contributed to” M.O. contracting HPV. The arbitrator awarded M.O. $5.2 million in May 2021. A week later, M.O. informed Geico of that she and insured had entered into an arbitration agreement, and M.O. filed her Petition for Damages in the trial court.
Geico only learned of the lawsuit weeks later by monitoring the Missouri state courts’ automated case management system.
In July 2021, Geico filed a motion to for a new trial and a motion to vacate the $5.2 award, but the trial court denied all motions.
In its case in the front of the Court of Appeals, Geico alleges it was denied the ability to participate in discovery, submit motions or litigate before the trial court ahead of the trial court’s decision to confirm the arbitration award.
In its opinion, the Court of Appeals said that while an insurer has the right to receive written notice and an opportunity to intervene, it is not entitled to develop facts and arguments pre- judgment.
“At the time of Geico’s intervention, liability and damages had been determined by an arbitrator and confirmed by the trial court,” the court wrote. “GEICO had no right to relitigate those issues.”
Geico also asserts it had a right to challenge the award prior to entry of judgment, to which the Court of Appeals disagreed. Because Geico denied coverage, it not was not a party when M.O. applied for confirmation of the award, nor was it a party at any time prior to the trial court’s entry of judgment confirming the award, the court surmised. Therefore the trial court was not required to allow Geico to intervene prior to entering judgment confirming the award.
Geico lastly argues that it was denied its rights to defend its interests in accordance with state and federal constitutions. The Court of Appeals ruled that by denying coverage and refusing to defend the insured, Geico conceded its rights.
“But GEICO did have the opportunity to participate and defend its interests—including the ability to challenge liability and damages—by entering a defense of Insured,” the court wrote.
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