One of the most basic principles in the law is that the party who asserts a fact as proof of an element of a cause of action must prove that fact to the requisite standard of proof. So how does a party prove a negative -- prove the absence of something?
For example, §303.025, RSMo. places a statutory duty to maintain financial responsibility on any vehicle operated in this state, stating in relevant part:
- No owner of a motor vehicle registered in this state, or required to be registered in this state, shall operate, register or maintain registration of a motor vehicle, or permit another person to operate such vehicle, unless the owner maintains the financial responsibility which conforms to the requirements of the laws of this state.....
The statute applies to non-residents operating a vehicle in Missouri as well:
..... No nonresident shall operate or permit another person to operate in this state a motor vehicle registered to such nonresident unless the nonresident maintains the financial responsibility which conforms to the requirements of the laws of the nonresident's state of residence.....
And the statute places the same obligation on anyone borrowing a vehicle:
.....Furthermore, no person shall operate a motor vehicle owned by another with the knowledge that the owner has not maintained financial responsibility unless such person has financial responsibility which covers the person's operation of the other's vehicle; however, no owner or nonresident shall be in violation of this subsection if he or she fails to maintain financial responsibility on a motor vehicle which is inoperable or being stored and not in operation.
Financial responsibility is met in one of two ways:
- A motor vehicle owner shall maintain the owner's financial responsibility in a manner provided for in section §303.160, or with a motor vehicle liability policy which conforms to the requirements of the laws of this state. A nonresident motor vehicle owner shall maintain the owner's financial responsibility which conforms to the requirements of the laws of the nonresident's state of residence.
Unfortunately, not everyone complies with this statutory obligation, and sometimes vehicles are operated without financial responsibility.
To address the eventuality that vehicles might be operated without financial responsibility, §379.203, RSMo. further provides, in relevant part:
- No automobile liability insurance covering liability arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of any motor vehicle shall be delivered or issued for delivery in this state with respect to any motor vehicle registered or principally garaged in this state unless coverage is provided therein or supplemental thereto, .....in not less than the limits for bodily injury or death set forth in section §303.030, RSMo, for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles because of bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death, resulting therefrom.....
This statutory obligation to provide coverage for uninsured motor vehicles includes so-called phantom vehicles (hit & run for example) where the existence or non-existence of liability coverage can not be known:
.....Such legal entitlement exists although the identity of the owner or operator of the motor vehicle cannot be established because such owner or operator and the motor vehicle departed the scene of the occurrence occasioning such bodily injury, sickness or disease, including death, before identification.
So how can an injured plaintiff prove that the defendant driver did not have financial responsibility, and that the plaintiff’s own uninsured motorist carrier should pay the claim instead?
§303.040, RSMo. provides a reporting process for motor vehicle collisions, and serves as the foundation for proving uninsured motorist status. A Motor Vehicle Accident Report, using Department of Revenue Form 1140, must be completed and filed in a timely manner by the claimant or plaintiff. The defendant driver then must file a report showing proof of insurance or financial responsibility within the established time period.
§379.203.5, RSMo. provides that the failure to respond to the statutory report required by §303.040 is prima facie evidence of uninsured motorist status:
- In any action on a policy of automobile liability insurance coverage providing for the protection of persons insured thereunder who are legally entitled to recover damages from owners or operators of uninsured motor vehicles, the fact that the owner or operator of such uninsured motor vehicle whether known or unknown failed to file the report required by section §303.040, RSMo, shall be prima facie evidence of uninsured status, and such failure to file may be established by a statement of the absence of such a report on file with the office of the director of revenue, certified by the director, which statement shall be received in evidence in any of the courts of this state. In any such action, the report required by section §303.040, RSMo, when filed by the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle, shall be prima facie evidence of lack of insurance coverage and the report, or a copy thereof, certified by the director of revenue, may be introduced into evidence in accordance with section §303.310, RSMo.
§303.310, RSMo. then provides that a certified report from the Director of Revenue, stating that proof of insurance was not provided by the defendant driver, may be introduced into evidence as proof of a lack of liability insurance:
Neither the report required by section §303.040, the action taken by the director pursuant to this chapter, the findings, if any, of the director upon which such action is based, nor the security filed as provided in this chapter shall be referred to in any way, nor be any evidence of the negligence or due care of either party, at the trial of any action at law to recover damages; however, the report required by section §303.040 may be subpoenaed and may be introduced into evidence solely for the purpose of establishing the existence or lack of insurance coverage where such issue is material and relevant to the action being tried. A copy of the report certified by the director as a correct copy shall be received in any of the courts of this state as evidence of the contents of the original report.
While the report may not be used to prove negligence, it is is sufficient to trigger a claim against the plaintiff’s own uninsured motorist coverages and prove a lack of liability insurance.
All these actions must take place within specified time periods set out by the applicable statutes. I
n the event you are in a collision with an uninsured motorist, or a phantom motorist, you should have a skilled Rolla auto accident lawyer to assist you in proving uninsured motorist status and assist you in asserting a claim against your own uninsured motorist coverages. By: Joseph W. Rigler
DID YOU KNOW ? is presented by Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC as a public information service only. None of the information contained herein is intended to be taken as legal advice. Each matter depends on unique facts which attorneys must consider in forming an opinion, and may depend on laws unique to a particular jurisdiction. No two cases are the same. If you want to know more about this subject, contact Williams, Robinson, Rigler & Buschjost, PC, or the attorney of your choice, and seek a formal opinion about your particular case.
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