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Why a Missouri couple’s car sex may have Geico on the hook for $5.2 million

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Denis Cumak
/
Flickr
Auto insurance company Geico could face a big bill thanks to a Missouri man's use of his 2014 Hyundai Genesis.

Earlier this month, the Missouri Court of Appeals issued a ruling that garnered headlines around the world: It found that Geico was on the hook for a $5.2 million award to a Missouri woman who’d been infected with HPV. The woman’s partner had auto insurance with Geico, and since the two had sex in his car, she alleged Geico should cover her injuries and losses.

The award came out of Jackson County. The woman, identified in court files only as M.O., had submitted a settlement offer to Geico, saying it should pay up for her infection. The company refused.

So M.O. and her partner agreed to enter into arbitration — and there, the arbitrator they hired found that M.O. deserved $5.2 million. They then filed the award with the Jackson County Circuit Court.

At that point, Geico tried to intervene. But, critically, the judge adopted and incorporated the arbitrator’s award first — and only then granted the company’s motion to enter the case.

That left the company playing catch-up in its appeal, explained attorney Connie McFarland-Butler. “If the judgment is entered, and you're intervening after the judgment is entered, in essence, you have no real rights,” she said.

In a 3-0 decision, the Missouri Appeals Court for the state’s Western District agreed. Under the version of Missouri law in place at the time of the couple’s interaction (the law was changed in 2021), it found the insurance company had no right to relitigate the case or intervene before judgment was entered.

Listen to the Legal Roundtable discuss the Geico award, and much more

Mark Smith, an attorney and former vice chancellor at Washington University, said Geico may have a dispute with its client as to whether his actions in the car were covered by the policy. But the court concluded that it doesn’t have the ability to challenge M.O.’s claim.

“They’re saying, ‘You don’t get a new trial,’” he said. “If he wants to come after you, Geico, you throw up your defense of whether or not [he’s] covered, but you don't get to relive, relitigate, whether or not she got it from him in that car, or whether she got it in some other place, or the nature of the damages.”

The attorneys discussed the case on St. Louis on the Air’s Legal Roundtable. Smith said he had some sympathy for the couple’s claims. “I've been paying my premiums to this insurance company my whole life, and now when I need them, they say, ‘I'm sorry, you're not covered. You're on your own.’ And so maybe they shouldn't be doing that.”

McFarland-Butler agreed that the insurer’s decision to reject M.O.’s claim, without making any attempt to offer payment or give their customer legal representation, had likely led to some regret at Geico headquarters.

“I'm sure that there's some heads that are rolling over at Geico over the decision not to provide a defense to him," she said.

The case isn’t over yet. McFarland-Butler noted that Geico had filed in federal court, seeking a declaration that such activity wasn’t covered by insurance. That action could still offer the company a reprieve.

Even so, she suggested, the company might be wise to settle with M.O. now.

“I don't know if she'll get a million or more, but it may be in Geico’s best interest to funnel some money her way to make this case go away,” she said.

Along with attorney Bill Freivogel, the Legal Roundtable also discussed a grad student’s case against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, which ordered her not to have any contact or even “indirect communication” with three classmates who had accused her of harassment and microaggressions. The panel agreed the university went too far, and acted without due process, in telling Maggie DeJong to stay away from peers in the art therapy program who’d complained about her conservative, Christian perspective.

The panel also discussed a jury verdict against the promoters of the LouFest music festival, the fate of a Missouri woman who lied to a federal judge about the whereabouts of her chimpanzee and a successful small-claims action against the City of St. Louis’ earnings tax being applied even to remote workers during the pandemic.

Lead image via Flickr/Denis Cumak

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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