West Virginia auto insurance premiums are high and rising. And if people like Tyler Circuit Judge Mark Karl get their way, they'll rise even higher.
Karl thankfully was slapped down last week by the West Virginia Supreme Court after he tried to force State Farm pay plaintiff Nicole Elliott damages over a car accident in which neither she, nor State Farm, were involved.
Elliott's mother, Cheryl Kettlewell, died in 1999 when the drunk driver of the car in which she was a passenger lost control and collided with a wall. Elliott and her sister, Stacey Strum, collected the policy maximum $20,000 from the driver's insurance company -- not State Farm -- on behalf of Kettlewell's estate.
But the sisters wanted more, apparently. So they sued their own, personal auto insurance companies.
Their incredible claim: the driver and their mother were both "under-insured" and thus, their insurance companies under-compensated the sisters for the "emotional distress" they suffered. Alas, their own auto insurers should pay.
Strum struck a undisclosed settlement with her insurer, Allstate. Elliott herself hoped to collect a cool $100,000 from State Farm, the "under-insured motorist" maximum.
Justice Joseph Albright led a rare unanimous Supreme Court majority in disabusing Elliott of her jackpot justice dreams. He reversed Judge Karl's ruling that she could collect from State Farm and ordered the case dismissed from the docket.
In his opinion, Albright quoted a Delaware court which, perhaps, best described the argument in front of him.
"This line of reasoning is so outlandish that it is difficult to articulate," that court said.
And indeed it is. If auto insurers were to suddenly become responsible for the accidents of those in no way connected to their policies, their best case response would be to raise rates to the sky. The worst case: they'd stop writing West Virginia policies at all.
As a sworn protector of the law and, thus, the will of all West Virginians, Judge Karl should have considered as much before he issued such a reckless ruling.
Yet, he didn't even.
It's heartening that the Supreme Court intervened in this case, helping common sense prevail. Bu it's truly sad that it had to.