It almost goes without saying, but insurance policies can be difficult to read and understand — even for the sophisticated business professional. Even if you don’t intend to practice insurance law, insurance policies are a large part of everyone’s personal and business activities. So naturally, regardless of your intended area of practice, you’ll likely find yourself working with these challenging policies at some time or another. When that time comes, you may feel you’re faced with a daunting task.
Imagine if you will — Don Driver walks through your door and informs you that he has been involved in a car accident. While driving the other day, he accidentally struck a man on a bicycle and seriously injured him. Now, the injured-man’s wife, Mary Brown, a witness to the accident, seeks compensation. Mary asserts that she is entitled to the money because Don’s operation of his vehicle caused her emotional distress, which she claims is a form of “bodily injury.” Don wants to know if Mary’s claim for compensation is covered under his personal auto liability insurance.
First, you want to make an initial assessment of Don’s case. Of course, it will be challenging for you to balance Don’s needs (in particular, determining how courts have interpreted any policy language, such as “bodily injury”) with the cost that it will take to make this assessment. Time is money. That’s where Miller’s comes in. It saves you time — and Don money.
So What Is Miller’s Standard Insurance Policies Annotated (aka “Miller’s”)?
At first glance, Miller’s in print can look pretty intimidating. It is a multi-volume loose-leaf legal resource published by West. See all 13 very large print volumes below. Within this massive set of 13 volumes are more than 180,000 federal and state case annotations going back to 1978. Miller’s has an annotation for every policy provision interpreted by a judicial decision and identifies reported decisions that interpret nonstandard policy language. Each annotation indicates who prevailed on the coverage provision — whether the insured, insurer, or a third party. In addition, Miller’s contains more than 100 property and casualty insurance policies and over 1,000 endorsements. These forms are divided into Personal Lines (e.g., personal auto, homeowners, personal umbrella liability) and Commercial Lines (e.g., commercial auto, general liability, commercial property and more).
Yes, it’s a vast amount of information at your fingertips. How will you ever figure out where anything is? Relax, there is good news! Luckily for you, once you understand the general concept of how to search through Miller’s, you’ll be locating policies, endorsements, and case annotations in no time.
There are two approaches to using Millers — the form approach and the index approach.
Using the Form Approach: If you have a specific form (policy or endorsement) and coverage provision in mind and want to find cases interpreting the provision, use the form approach.
Using the Index Approach: If you want to look at more case annotations on similar provisions in other forms, use the index approach.
Keep in mind that not all insurance cases fit neatly within one coverage provision and using the Index Approach helps you double check for case annotations that may not be readily apparent from using the Form Approach. If you opt for the Form Approach initially, you should check your research using the Index Approach as well — at least until you move up from budding lawyer to blooming lawyer.
Putting Miller’s to Use for Don Driver
Now that you know how to use Miller’s it’s time to put it to use. In order to assess whether Don’s personal auto insurance policy will cover him for Mary’s emotional distress under “bodily injury,” one thing you want to figure out is what “bodily injury” actually means and then how courts have interpreted it. This is where Miller’s creates a great platform for an attorney to begin researching relevant case annotations on the topic.
Begin your research using Volume 1 from the collection. You know Don’s issue involves his personal auto policy. Notice in the photo below that Volume 1 contains both the form policies and endorsements and the Miller’s Index.
To begin, locate the “Personal Auto Forms” tab in Volume 1 and find the Definitions section under the Personal Auto Policy forms (Wonderful! It just happens to be on page 1!). In the photo below, notice two things on this page:
First, there is a form identifier, an acronym identifying the category that your form falls within — in this case, it’s PAP — for personal auto policy. It’s always located on the top left or right of each page.
Second, there is a section identifier, which can consist of a combination of letters or letters and numbers. A little more than half way down the page on the left you can see that “bD” is the section identifier you want — it falls under Definitions and serves as the identifier for the definition of “bodily injury” (see the red square box).
Using the Index Approach to Locate Case Annotations
But — before you run off to locate case annotations using the “bD” section identifier don’t forget — you also want to check Miller’s Index for any other similar provisions in other forms related to the definition of “bodily injury” that might exist. In the photo below, you can see where “bodily injury” first appears in the Index. Also note that “PAP bD” shows up on this list.
But are there any other references to PAP in this Index list that include a different section identifier and thus another place that you can look to find additional case annotations on “bodily injury?” Yes! On the following page (see photo below) there is another reference to PAP and a new section identifier — A1A1. Jot it down.
Now that you have identified sections related to the definition of “bodily injury” (bD and A1A1), you are ready to locate the relevant case annotations from Montana. The case law annotations are located in the remaining volumes of the Miller’s collection (II through XIII) and they appear in the order in which the forms are presented in Volume 1. Thus, Policy Definitions Annotations appear at the beginning of Volume II. In addition, the section identifiers (like bD) run alphabetically throughout the volumes for each form. For instance, Personal Auto Policy forms begin with Oa and end with M4B3e.
Once you are in the correct annotation section (in this case, Policy Definitions Annotations and PAP bD), you’ll see that case annotations are arranged by state in alphabetical order and with most recent year first. Again notice that both your form identifier (PAP) and section identifier (bD) appear in the top left or right corner of the page.
It turns out that there are five case annotations for Montana. Now you just need to read through them to see if any are relevant to Don’s situation regarding the definition of “bodily injury.” For example, you might be interested in Treichel v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance, where the Montana Supreme Court held that a woman was entitled to the $25,000 per person coverage limit for emotional distress after she witnessed a man’s vehicle hit a man on a bicycle. Amazing! An annotation totally on point! Now you know that you can tell Don that Mary’s emotional distress claim may potentially be covered under his personal auto policy.
And what about PAP A1A1? The process is the same. You’ll find that section A1A1 falls under a different form — Liability Coverage, which happens to be the next tab after Policy Definitions. Look at the top corner of the pages for your section identifier A1A1. After you’ve found it, check to see whether there are any case annotations for Montana. This time there are eleven. Read through the annotations to see if any address the definition of “bodily injury.” That’s all there is to it. If you find you need more help or clarification, take a look at the User’s Guide located at the front of Volume 1. Miller’s — a great guide to insurance policy terms, phrases, and coverage questions — and – simple enough for any budding insurance lawyer!Authored by Alisa Brechbill, 3L, University of Montana School of Law. Alisa came to law school with a construction background. She first became interested in insurance law through her experience managing her own sustainable construction company. This past fall, Alisa enrolled in an insurance law course to help her apply this area of law in her current internship opportunity at Beal Law Firm, where she enjoys engaging in the practice of business defense and litigation.