Lisa Marakis made a mistake six years ago when she decided to swerve out of the way of a car coming head-on in the wrong lane, according to her insurance company.
Because she missed the car, went off the road and ran into a fence, Marakis could not collect damages, said State Farm Fire and Casualty Co. officials. Their policy clearly states that hit-and-run accidents only count if there is a hit. The car that caused Marakis' accident never touched her. It sped off and never was identified.But the Utah Supreme Court, by a 4-1 decision announced Monday, has ruled State Farm should pay Marakis' claims despite the wording of its policy.
"Marakis should not be barred from relief by her . . . unwillingness to collide with the vehicle which caused the accident," said the decision, signed by justices I. Daniel Stewart, Christine M. Durham and Michael D. Zimmerman and written by Chief Justice Gordon R. Hall.
A lower court had ruled in favor of the insurance company.
State legislators passed a law in 1985, three years after Marakis' accident, that covers accidents caused by a car that speeds away without touching anyone. But that law was not retroactive and does not apply to Marakis' case.
In the majority opinion, Hall said "hit-and-run" is a general term that should not be taken literally. The term is used in baseball, in military operations and in commerce, all without necessarily meaning the deed was carried out literally.
He also referred to another state law that requires drivers involved in an accident to stay at the scene.
"Since, under this provision, the Utah Legislature did not require physical contact as a prerequisite for determining when one must stop and render assistance, it would be inconsistent to read such a requirement into the hit-and-run clause of the uninsured motorist statute."
But Associate Chief Justice Richard C. Howe disagreed. He said state law at the time of the accident specifically referred to "hit-and-run" accidents and required insurance companies to cover them.
"When the Legislature said `hit-and-run,' I do not believe it can be interpreted to mean `miss-and-run' or `cause-and-run,' " he said.