Pay me once, pay me twice, pay me thrice?

by Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

[author: Glen A. Murphy]

On November 15th the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia issued the opinion of Jeffery Jenkins, et ux. v. City of Elkins, et al. (No. 11-1059). Factually, Mr. Jenkins was an employee of Bombardier Aerospace driving a company vehicle, within the course and scope of his employment, when he was struck by another vehicle owned by the City of Elkins and driven by its employee Stephen Stanton, likewise in the course and scope of his employment. Because Mr. Jenkins was on the job at the time, he received workers compensation benefits for his injuries. Mr. Jenkins sought to pursue a claim against the City of Elkins and Mr. Stanton. However, the City informed Mr. Jenkins that because he was covered by workers’ compensation, the City had statutory immunity under W. Va. Code § 29-12A-1 et seq. (aka the “Tort Reform Act”). The City’s insurer, National Union, likewise asserted its immunity as the City’s immunity was preserved in a provision of National Union’s policy. This immunity has been previously recognized in the longstanding holding of O’Dell v. Town of Gauley Bridge, 188 W. Va. 596, 425 S.E.2d 551 (1992). Suit was filed against the City and Mr. Stanton. Mr. Jenkins also filed suit against his employer’s insurer (Greenwich), as well as his personal insurer (Westfield), seeking either Under or Uninsured (UM/UIM) coverage. Greenwich and Westfield asserted exclusions of coverage under their policies because of a “governmental vehicle” exclusion. Greenwich also asserted that Jenkins was not entitled to the Medical Payments coverage under his policy based upon an exclusion for injuries arising out of and in the course of employment.

As there were no facts in dispute, the case was briefed for summary judgment before the Circuit Court of Harrison County.  Judge Bedell found in favor of the City and National Union’s assertion of immunity. He found that the “governmental vehicle exclusion” as asserted by Greenwich and Westfield, were valid exclusions, but only for amounts over and above the State’s mandatory minimum coverage ($20K/$40K/$10K). Finally, he found that Greenwich’s “workers compensation” exclusion in its medical payments coverage section was valid. Mr. Jenkins appealed from this ruling.

After review by the Supreme Court of West Virginia, the Court significantly upheld the immunity of the City (and thus its insurer) and reaffirmed its longstanding holding in O’Dell (Syl pt. 1); that if an individual is injured by a tortfeasor who is immune from liability, underinsured motorist coverage is triggered for the limits in place (Syl pt. 2); that the “government owned vehicle” exclusion is against the public policy of this State and is unenforceable; and, of most significance to those involved with workers compensation, held in Syllabus point 5:

5. An employer’s insurance policy that excludes coverage for auto medical payment benefits to an employee who sustained an injury arising out of and in the course of employment is only enforceable to exclude medical payment coverage for that part of a claim that exceeds the amount subrogated by the employer’s workers’ compensation carrier. (Emphasis added.)

The Court, in reaching this holding, noted that it has previously held that:

“an employee who receives workers’ compensation benefits for injuries that result from a motor vehicle collision with a third-party which occurs in the course and scope of the employee’s employment is entitled to assert, against his/her employer’s motor vehicle insurance carrier, a claim for underinsured motorist benefits, where the employee’s employer has in effect motor vehicle insurance providing underinsured motorist coverage and where the employee’s recovery against the third-party activates such underinsurance coverage.” Syl. pt. 4, Henry v. Benyo, 203 W. Va. 172, 506 S.E.2d 615 (1998).

This Court looked at Greenwich’s medical payment exclusion as essentially being a workers’ compensation exclusion. The Court noted that a majority of courts have upheld similar exclusions, but that “some courts have invalidated this exclusion when a workers compensation insurer successfully asserts its subrogation on third-party proceeds.” [Citation omitted]. Therefore, our Court determined, both in reliance on its prior holding in Benyo and for public policy considerations, an employee should have equal application to the recovery of medical payment benefits under the employer’s policy. Statutory subrogation rights for workers’ compensation payments are still in place for employers’ workers’ compensation insurers as provided under W. Va. Code § 23-2A-1(b)(1), but as for the employers’ auto insurers, they can now only exclude medical payments coverage under their policies for the amount that exceeds the amount subrogated by the employers’ workers’ compensation carrier. Additionally, it must be remembered that W. Va. Code § 23-2A-1(e), in pertinent part, advises that the statutory subrogation described in this preceding section, “does not apply to uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage or any other insurance coverage purchased by the injured worker or on behalf of the injured worker.”(Emphasis added) Medical payments insurance is just such a coverage. This creates what appears to be an inconsistency which was noted by Justice Benjamin, of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, in his dissent. He noted his displeasure with majority’s ruling and suggested that the majority misunderstood and misquoted Benyo by stating:

“[t]he actual effect of the law created in the majority opinion is that the plaintiff will receive a windfall by virtue of having his or her medical bills paid more than once. For example, in the instant case, Mr. Jenkins has had his medical bills paid by the workers' compensation provider. Also, he will be able to collect uninsured benefits from his employer's auto policy which sum will include medical costs. Pursuant to W. Va. Code § 23–2A–1(e) (2009), the workers' compensation provider's statutory subrogation right does not apply to the uninsured coverage so that Mr. Jenkins will receive his uninsured benefits free and clear. Finally, as a result of the majority opinion, Mr. Jenkins will receive auto medical payment benefits from his employer's policy despite the fact that his medical bills have already been paid by the workers' compensation provider. It is unclear under W. Va.Code § 23–2A–1(e), whether the workers' compensation provider will have subrogation rights against these auto medical payment benefits.” (Emphasis added)

Finally, Justice Benjamin stated that this ruling “potentially will have [Mr. Jenkin’s] medical bills paid three times over. Such a result is inexplicable to me and has no basis in law.”

The ramifications of any court’s ruling that eliminates an insurers exclusions and/or expands coverages, typically results in an insurers reevaluating the premium received for the risks that are written. Medical payments coverage is usually a rather inexpensive addition to coverage under personal and commercial policies. It is a no-fault insurance that covers medical bills related to an occurrence (usually for a fixed period of time). Employers who maintain medical payments coverage on their commercial insurance policies may want to talk to their commercial agents about their limits of coverage. Worker’s compensation insurers will need to give additional scrutiny to subrogation claims involving employees who are involved in motor vehicle accidents, especially so when the employers Under, Uninsured (UM/UIM) or Medical Payments coverage comes into play as, at least according to Justice Benjamin’s  dissent, there may no longer be a right of subrogation by the workers’ compensation carrier.

For more information, please contact:

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC

Spilman Thomas & Battle, PLLC on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.


JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at:

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.