June 28, 2022

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MO court upholds $5.2 million judgment for woman who got HPV

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The Missouri Court of Appeals has upheld a $5.2 million judgment against an insurance company in the case of a Jackson County woman who claimed she unwittingly caught a sexually transmitted disease from her former romantic partner in his car.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, a three-judge panel found that the judgment entered against GEICO General Insurance Company through earlier arbitration proceedings was valid. The insurance companies sought to undo the action, claiming errors were made in Jackson County Circuit Court and the settlement was not done in line with Missouri law.

According to court papers, the woman, identified in court records only as M.O., notified GEICO in February 2021 of her intention to seek monetary damages, alleging she contracted HPV, the human papillomavirus, from an insured member in his automobile. She contended the man caused her to be infected with the STD despite being aware of his condition and the risks of unprotected sex.

The insurance company declined the settlement, sending the case to arbitration.

In May 2021, the arbitrator found that the man and woman had sex inside his vehicle that “directly caused, or directly contributed to cause” the HPV infection. The man was found liable for not disclosing his infection status and the woman was awarded $5.2 million for damages and injuries to be paid by GEICO.

The insurance company filed motions seeking a new hearing of the evidence and for the award to be tossed out, saying the judgment violated the company’s rights to due process and the arbitration agreement was unenforceable. The company appealed after those requests were denied.

The three-judge panel tasked with reviewing the case found that the lower court did not make a mistake by denying the company’s motions, saying GEICO did not have a right to “relitigate those issues” once damages had been determined and a judgment was entered.

Judge Tom Chapman concurred in a separate opinion, though, saying he believes GEICO was offered “no meaningful opportunity to participate” in the lawsuit and existing law “relegat(es) the insurer to the status of a bystander.”

In a related federal court case, GEICO is contesting the idea that the claim is covered under its insurance policy. The outcome of that case would determine whether the company has to actually pay the settlement.

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the decision by the Missouri Court of Appeals meant insurance company GEICO must pay the judgment claim. The insurance company is still contesting the decision in federal court, arguing that the claim is not covered under the policy.

This story was originally published June 7, 2022 5:29 PM.

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Bill Lukitsch covers breaking news for The Star. Before joining The Star, he covered politics and local government for the Quad-City Times.