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Proper Venue for Uninsured Motorist ("UM") Claims

Since the statutory changes in 2005 requiring most Missouri personal injury actions to be brought in the county where the initial injury or negligent act occurred, there has been some confusion regarding how to apply this to a Missouri uninsured motorist car accident claim, often referred to as a "UM" Claim.

An uninsured motorist claim under Missouri law arises when someone is injured by a negligent driver who does not have any insurance. Most people have some form of Uninsured motorist coverage under their auto policies, therefore,the claim is not against the other driver but an action in contract against your insurance company to recover your damages sustained as the result of an uninsured driver.

Therefore, since it is a claim in contract and not Missouri tort, venue is not controlled by the tort venue statutes and case law, but by the contract statutes and case law.

On such case, State ex rel. Auto Owners Insurance Company, Relator vs. The Honorable Edith L. Messina and The Honorable Kevin M.J. Crane, Respondents, recently clarified this issue. In this case the trial Judge transferred the case from Jackson County Missouri to Boone County Missouri despite the insurance company defendant having multiple offices in Jackson County.

Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff ruled that it was error for the trial Judge to transfer the case from Jackson County Missouri because the insurance company had multiple offices for doing business in that county and therefore venue was appropriate there.

Section 351.375.2 does provide, in relevant part, that "[t]he location or residence of any corporation shall be deemed for all purposes to be in the county where its registered office is maintained." But section 351.690(3) provides that "[n]o provisions of this chapter, other than [certain exceptions not relevant in this case], shall be applicable to insurance companies ...." This Court, therefore, has held that "the provision fixing a corporation's residence at its registered office does not apply to insurance corporations." Gray, 979 S.W.2d at 192.

Where no tort is alleged, an insurance corporation may be sued in any county where it has an agent or office for the transaction of its usual and customary business. Gray, 979 S.W.2d at 192.