Most of us buy car insurance and we think we're covered in the event of a crash. A married couple from Burleson thought their auto insurance policy covered just about everything, but a freak accident changed that belief. They discovered what they’re calling legal loopholes following a terrible wreck in April of last year.
Holly Dunn was on her typical commute to open her boutique in the Fort Worth Stockyards. She was driving north on Interstate 35W close to Downtown Fort Worth when an 11-pound piece of metal ricocheted through her windshield.
“It came through her windshield with such force that it entered her cheek, severed her ear at the ear canal and exited out the back of her skull and blew a hole in her skull about the size of a silver dollar,” said Holly’s husband, Tim Dunn.
Tim, a local police officer, got a call from a colleague and headed straight to the hospital.
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“They have two preachers and a staff member waiting on us,” said Dunn. “I've been in enough situations like that so I know what that means. In my heart I felt like she had already passed away.”
Doctors operated on Holly’s brain.
“Before that, I was able to go back in ICU and give her a kiss and say goodbye,” said Dunn tearfully.
When the doctor finally arrived in the waiting room, he had good news. Holly’s brain was intact. Tim was overjoyed, but he would soon learn the family’s fight was just beginning.
“It has really altered my life. It’s altered my family's life,” said Tim.
Holly slowly found a new normal, returning part-time to her small business in the Stockyards. Meanwhile, the police investigation concluded the metal piece that shot through Holly’s windshield was a leaf spring that likely came loose from a semi-truck on I-35.
Tim began filing claims with Allstate, his auto insurer.
“It has been a total utter nightmare,” said Tim.
The Dunn's attorney, Jason Burress, hired a private investigator to find the owner of the truck.
“There are no identifiable markers on that component part,” said Burress.
So under the Dunn’s insurance policy -- they requested uninsured motorist benefits from Allstate. It would entitle Holly to $30,000 for serious bodily injury – money which could help with expenses not covered by health insurance.
“Allstate refused and said they would not pay,” said Tim.
While Allstate did pay for the totaled car, it denied the bodily injury payment writing, "…there had been no physical contact with an unidentified motor vehicle."
Here's where the interpretation of state law gets tricky.
Allstate concluded that had Holly been hit by the truck, not a part of it, and the truck left the scene, she likely would have been covered.
“All we ever asked for was what is in our policy. That is it,” said Tim.
But the Dunn’s policy, much like the average consumer policy, said they were not eligible for serious bodily injury coverage in crashes with debris from another vehicle or the fallen load from another vehicle.
The Texas insurance code said to qualify for uninsured motorist benefits there has to be "physical contact" with the vehicle. It's written like that to reduce fraudulent claims, but it makes no provision for a part of a vehicle and leaves room for interpretation. That's where the Texas Supreme Court comes in. In similar cases, the court concluded you have to be hit by the whole vehicle to get bodily injury benefits.
But Burress confirms that is not the case in other states. California, for example, has provisions for cargo and vehicle parts when it comes to uninsured motorist claims.
“It is a huge loophole,” said Tim.
Allstate tells us: "We have looked extensively into this case and unfortunately in this circumstance, the industry is regulated by law that states any uninsured motorist policy written in the state of Texas requires direct contact with an unknown vehicle."
We talked to other big auto insurance companies and industry trade groups. The Insurance Council of Texas believes regardless of who was the auto insurer, the outcome would likely be the same. Several insurers told us they would decide on a case by case basis.
“This accident does not define me,” said Holly.
She can’t drive anymore and has lost some degree of independence. It has also changed her outlook.
"Life is more precious, and it probably took that for me to realize it," she said.
The Dunn’s are still hopeful someone who may have seen the crash will come forward to identify the truck. And they’re equally hopeful the state legislature will look into this provision and make changes to help people like them when facing crashes like this.
“Had it been your mom or your wife or your child would this be OK,” asked Holly Dunn.