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A Missouri appeals court recently affirmed that GEICO must pay out a $5.2 million arbitration award to a woman who contracted the human papillomavirus (HPV) while having sex in a car insured by the gecko.
"M.O." submitted a claim to GEICO in 2021, arguing that a guy she'd been hooking up with in late 2017 ("M.B.") negligently infected her with HPV when they had unprotected sex in his car. She offered to settle for $1 million. GEICO denied coverage and M.O. entered arbitration with M.B.
The arbitrator determined that M.B. knew he had HPV and should have told M.O. before they had sex in his car, but he didn't. Finding M.B. negligent, the arbitrator awarded $5.2 million in damages.
GEICO appealed, arguing it never had a chance to defend itself.
"But GEICO did have the opportunity to participate and defend its interests," the appeals court wrote (emphasis not added). Because the insurance company failed to enter a defense during arbitration, the court held it "had no right to relitigate those issues." Moreover, M.O. provided notice to GEICO before she filed suit against M.B., offering to settle.
Missouri law requires insurers to be notified of any pending arbitration before a judgment is entered and gives them 30 days to intervene. However, the court disagreed with GEICO's assertion that it was entitled to "develop facts and arguments prejudgment."
The insurance company must accept a pending action as is when it decides to intervene, and when GEICO got involved, "liability and damages had been determined by an arbitrator and confirmed by the trial court."
So far, the state courts have found that, at the very least, M.B. was negligent in failing to inform M.O. that she could contract HPV from him. And the agreement the parties entered into expressly authorizes M.B. to settle a personal injury action by agreeing that M.O. can collect her settlement from his insurer.
But, in April 2021, GEICO filed suit against M.O. and M.B. in federal court, seeking a declaratory judgment. The company argues it had no duty to defend M.B. because his insurance only covers damages resulting from the "normal use of the vehicle." However, M.O. argues that M.B.'s car insurance policy insured him against "personal liability arising from his negligence in actions involving his automobile." M.O. also argued that the federal court lacked jurisdiction.
In October 2021, a federal district judge dismissed M.O. from the suit. The case is set for a jury trial this fall.
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