Thursday, December 27, 2012, Adrian James Hernandez (age 18) of Conroe, Texas was the latest victim of people driving at unsafe speeds in rainy weather. Adrian Hernandez was a passenger in his own vehicle, a 1990 Mazda RX7, that he had just recently acquired. The vehicle was being driven by his 19 year-old brother, Ryan Eric Hernandez.
Apparently, the Mazda was westbound on FM 1485 near New Caney when it spun out of control into oncoming traffic and collided with a 1997 Nissan Maxima driven by Nahum Reyes, (age 30) of New Caney, Texas. The Nissan Maxima struck the passenger side of the Mazda, killing Adrian Hernandez and injuring Ryan Hernandez.
The police investigation has indicated that the Mazda was traveling at an ‘unsafe speed’. It was raining and the roads were damp at the time.
Under Texas Law, a passenger in an automobile can pursue a claim for liability against a negligent driver who causes the passenger injuries or death. However, the heirs pursuing the claim may be surprised to find out that the liability limits they paid for may not equal what they get from such a claim. There is a clause in Texas auto policies that states that there is no coverage for Family Members riding in the vehicle. The Texas Supreme Court has long ago ruled that the exclusion conflicts with Texas Policy that drivers carry insurance, however, the Court only held that the policy with such a clause must provide the minimum limits of coverage. (See my earlier article on the Family Member Exclusion Clause.) Thus, If you paid for 500,000 in liability coverage and you cause a wreck that results in your passenger and family member being injured, the maximum you could recover would be 30,000.00.
This particular case has an interesting twist. The car owner was the passenger. Assuming he had under insured/uninsured motorist coverage, his heirs may be able to make a recovery under that side of the policy as well. Stacking of two coverages under one policy is generally not allowed due to non-duplication of coverage clauses, however, if the coverage is now different amounts under liability and under insured coverage, there is an argument here to allow stacking up to the full purchased limit of the under insured limits.
One thing for sure, the family can expect a legal battle to ensure if he had more than a minimum limits policy. Insurance companies have trained adjusters and attorneys on staff whose job is to make arguments to minimize claim’s exposure in cases just such as this. This type of case highlights the need to have a Houston car accident lawyer on your side when there are complex insurance coverage issues involved. It also highlights why people need to beware of their speed when driving in slick road conditions.