Why GEICO's $5.2 million STD claim isn't wrapped up yet

It's not the only carrier to allegedly face STD claims from ex-couple

Why GEICO's $5.2 million STD claim isn't wrapped up yet

Insurance News

By Jen Frost

A claimant is seeking $5.2 million in compensation from GEICO after allegedly catching Human Papillomavirus (HPV) from an insured in a car romp – but GEICO has argued that the claim is not covered by an auto policy, and that the couple had multiple sexual encounters elsewhere before the unnamed woman’s (known as MO) diagnosis.

Further, the carrier has alleged that this is not the only attempt by the man, to claim over the STD – and that he had sought to claim against multiple insurers including Travelers Home and Marine Insurance Company, Acuity Insurance, and Progressive.

GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment in late June, arguing that its policy terms, as interpreted by Kansas law, “demonstrate that MO’s alleged injury is not covered”.

In accompanying court documents seen by Insurance Business, filed in the Western District of Missouri Western Division – Kansas City, GEICO argued that there are “numerous reasons” why the claimant and the insured cannot recover “anything” from it.

The claimant and the insured are a “formerly engaged couple who admitted to sexual activities in locations well beyond the… vehicle prior to [MO’s] HPV diagnosis”, GEICO alleged. This included “unprotected sexual activities” at the insured and claimant’s houses prior to the October 2018 diagnosis, according to GEICO’s legal team.

The carrier further claimed that their relationship lasted two years and seven months, with the claimant first having asserted a potential tort claim against the man over the STD after May 2020 – when their engagement was called off.

The man submitted two homeowners’ claims – to Travelers and Acuity – and one motor claim with Progressive Insurance in addition to the GEICO claim, the carrier’s court documents alleged. This followed counsel for MO requesting “all applicable” insurance policy details from the insured in November 2020, without any mention of the Hyundai Genesis in which it was later claimed the STD had been contracted, GEICO alleged.

However, GEICO set out that there is no reason the court “ever [needs] to reach those issues” when considering the case.

This, the carrier argued, is for the “simple reason” that the policy does not provide cover for the HPV transmission “solely based on the allegation [that this] occurred during sexual activity in a parked car.”

GEICO looked to past case precedent, including Garrison v State Farm Mutual and Farm Mutual Ins Co v Evans, to argue that the STD was not passed on due to the “use” of a vehicle as intended within an automobile policy.

Further, it pointed to an unpublished – and non-precedential – decision in DeWitt that had found there was no cover for a woman who allegedly caught a venereal disease during consensual sex on a yacht.

“In light of the auto policy’s clear language and this authority, GEICO respectfully requests that this court grant summary judgment on this threshold coverage question, before the parties and the court expend valuable resources on unnecessary discovery and motion practice in a case that fails as a matter of law,” GEICO requested.

MO and the man were not immediately available for comment. GEICO said that “any payments and insurance coverage for this matter” will be determined by the case.

The arbitration case

Following an appeal court ruling against GEICO on arbitration, the claim hit global headlines in June and spread across the internet with the force of an unfettered viral infection. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk weighed in on the Show-Me State entanglement.

The issue at large in the headline hitting case, however, was not necessarily that the insurer had been found to be on the hook for the woman’s unfortunate encounter. Rather, the crux of this case lay in arbitration rules, and insurers in the state may have less to fear from these looking forwards. This is according to Michael Young, partner at Missouri law firm Reichardt Noce & Young.

“If you look at the appellate court’s opinion, it’s actually a highly technical opinion that doesn’t necessarily address insurance coverage issues at all and doesn’t have a whole thing that says GEICO has to pay,” Young told Insurance Business.

“What the case really is, is an example of how bodily injury and wrongful death cases that had coverage issues in them from a liability perspective were handled under the 2017 version of our statutes.”

Missouri updated rules on arbitration, or RSMo 537.065, in 2021, but the GEICO case was handled under the 2017 version, according to Young.

The problem for insurers with the 2017 version was that it had “loopholes”, Young said.

“Based on various timing strategies, and so forth, plaintiffs and insurance could effectively in many cases defeat the insurance companies’ right to intervene or at least practically defeat it,” Young said of the 2017 process.

“This case is an example of that, where they [the insured and the claimant] did an arbitration to have some of these issues decided, and then filed a lawsuit – and so by the time the insurance company intervened, the court under prior case law said that the insurance company essentially couldn’t contest any of the findings and so forth, at least in that proceeding.”

In the case in question, GEICO, which was not a party to the arbitration and has claimed it did not give consent, argued in its appeal that the proceedings had violated its rights to due process – and set out that the ruling was unenforceable. It also levelled allegations of “collusion and fraud”.

The claimant had initially sought $1 million for unknowingly catching the STD, but it was the arbitrator that settled on the multi-million-dollar figure.

Under the latest version of the statute, arbitrations are no longer binding on insurance companies without consent, according to Young. The update also sought to close timing loopholes, which Young said were being used against carriers to “defeat their right to intervene”.

“We think under the new version of the statute, this result wouldn’t necessarily occur,” Young said.

“Even under the old version of the statute, the way that this case played out, I’m not convinced that GEICO ultimately will have to pay for this judgment that was entered against the insured.”

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