Indiana Court of Appeals Upholds Insurance Policy’s Two-Year Suit Limitation on UM Claim

Michael R. Giordano

Napier v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 2021 WL 5291911 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021)

In 2014 and 2015, Paula Napier was involved in automobile accidents with operators of uninsured vehicles. More than three years later, in 2019, Napier sued her auto insurer, American Family Insurance Company, seeking uninsured motorist (“UM”) benefits for the accidents. American Family filed a motion for summary judgment contending that Napier’s lawsuit was time-barred by the following policy language:

4. Suit Against Us. [American Family] may not be sued unless all the terms of this policy are complied with . . . [American Family] may not be sued under the Uninsured Motorist coverage on any claim that is barred by the tort statute of limitations.

Because Napier’s Complaint against American Family was filed beyond Indiana’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury actions, I.C. § 34-11-2-4(a), the trial court granted American Family’s motion for summary judgment.

On appeal, Napier contended that the American Family policy’s reference to “tort statute of limitations” was ambiguous because Indiana has a number of different statutes of limitations that apply to tort claims, depending upon the types of damages that may be involved. The Court of Appeals rejected this argument, finding that the policy’s reference to “tort statute of limitations” was “specifically applicable” to UM coverage and thus unambiguously referred to Indiana’s two-year statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

The Court of Appeals also rejected Napier’s argument that the policy’s attempt to limit the filing of claims against the UM insurer to two years was against the public policy behind Indiana’s UM statute. Because American Family’s policy allowed Napier the same amount of time to bring a UM claim against American Family as she had to bring against the UM tortfeasors, the Court of Appeals concluded that the policy’s two-year limitations period was not against public policy.

This case is consistent with previous Indiana cases enforcing unambiguous policy limitations periods.