Bell v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co – Case Brief Summary (West Virginia)

In Bell v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., 157 W. Va. 623, 207 S.E.2d 147 (1974), plaintiff Bell was involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist while riding her motorcycle, which she owned but for which she did not have insurance.

Following the accident, Bell attempted to collect uninsured motorist hereinafter "UM" benefits under two separate policies of motor vehicle insurance.

The first such policy insured a Fiat automobile which Bell also owned. The second policy had been purchased by her father, in whose household Bell resided, for his owned vehicle.

Both of these policies, however, contained an "owned but not insured" exclusion, which the insurer claimed prevented Bell from recovering UM benefits thereunder in connection with her motorcycle accident. Bell, 157 W. Va. at 624- 26, 207 S.E.2d at 148-49.

Issuing its opinion, the Court ultimately found the "owned but not insured" exclusions to be void and inoperative to preclude Bell's recovery of UM benefits under her and her father's policies of insurance. To reach this conclusion, the Court first examined the public policy attending this State's motor vehicle insurance laws:

As automobile transportation has attained a pervasive status in the organization of society and commerce, the State has a legitimate interest in assuring that the burden of loss in owning, operating, and maintaining automobiles be justly and equitably distributed. For this reason the Legislature has enacted the West Virginia Uninsured Motorist Law, Code, 33- 6-31, as amended, which contains specific requirements applicable to insurance underwriters. This statute regulates, in part, the relationship between an insured and the insurer, and, therefore, an insurance contract cannot alter the terms as provided by the statute. . . .

(Bell, 157 W. Va. at 627, 207 S.E.2d at 150.)