The insured was found liable for not disclosing his infection status after the unnamed parties had sex in his car.

By Hannah Smith JD 

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In a concurring opinion, Judge Tom Chapman wrote that he believes that GEICO was offered “no meaningful opportunity to participate” in the lawsuit, and that existing law “relegat[es] the insurer to the status of a bystander,” which could be important for insurance litigation in the future. (Credit: PAUL FARMER/Wikicommons)

The Missouri Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision by the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, that an insurance company must pay a $5.2 million settlement granted to a woman who claimed she unwittingly caught a sexually transmitted disease from her former romantic partner in his car which was covered by the insurer.

In its opinion, the three-judge panel found that the judgment entered against GEICO General Insurance Company during earlier arbitration proceedings was valid. The insurer sought to undo the action, and claimed that there were errors made at the lower court level, and that the settlement agreement was not in line with Missouri law.

According to the suit, M.O., the unnamed defendant, notified GEICO in early February 2021 of her intention to seek monetary damages, alleging that she contracted the human papillomavirus (HPV) from an insured during intercourse in his automobile. She argued that the insured caused her to be infected with the STD despite being aware of his medical condition and the risks of unprotected sex. GEICO declined the statement and sent the case to arbitration.

An arbitrator found that the unnamed parties had sex in the insured vehicle that “directly caused, or directly contributed to cause” the HPV infection. The insured was found liable for not disclosing his infection status, and M.O was awarded $5.2 million for damages and injuries to be paid by GEICO.

GEICO filed motions seeking a new hearing of the evidence and for the award to be tossed out, arguing that the judgment violated the company’s rights to due process and the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. Those claims were denied and the company appealed.

GEICO asserted that the trial court erred when it confirmed the arbitration award because Missouri law “give[s] intervenors the right to meaningfully participate in the case, in that GEICO was prevented from developing facts and arguments pre-judgment.” GEICO also asserted that, by granting its motion to intervene after the entry of judgment, the trial court effectively deprived GEICO of the ability to participate in discovery, submit motions, or litigate before the trial court.

The three-judge panel found that neither the applicable versions of the above laws provided GEICO with any such rights. The panel found that the lower court did not make a mistake by denying the company’s motions, saying that GEICO did not have a right to “relitigate those issues” after damages had been determined and a judgment was issued. The panel noted that the applicable section “simply give[s] an insurer the right to written notice and an opportunity to intervene,” and provides no “other rights beyond what any intervenor would have.”

In a concurring opinion, Judge Tom Chapman wrote that he believes that GEICO was offered “no meaningful opportunity to participate” in the lawsuit, and that existing law “relegat[es] the insurer to the status of a bystander,” which could be important for insurance litigation in the future.

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Insurance Coverage Law Center editor’s note: This case definitely falls under the heading of “you can’t make this up.” One may state concerns about this opening the gates for similar seemingly absurd claims, but due to the highly specific set of facts associated with this claim and settlement, this will likely not be an issue.

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Hannah Smith JD