Ordinarily, I have zero regrets about not attending law school. But every so often there’s a legal shitshow that lights up every corner of my brain, and I understand why people get into the field.
The insurance company GEICO, who have tormented us with corny ads and that British lizard mascot for way too long, are right now embroiled in a sordid affair involving a man and a woman known in court documents as M.B. and M.O. The latter has been seeking damages related to contracting HPV, the most common sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. She says this was the result of having unprotected sex with M.B. in his car in late 2017, when he supposedly knew he was positive for the virus but had not told her. M.O. received her diagnosis in 2018. Because the vehicle was insured by GEICO, in February of this year she demanded a liability settlement from the company to the tune of $1 million — or else she’d file for damages.
Yes, a million dollars from his car insurance company. Because they had sex in his car.
The resulting dispute has made for just incredible reading, even down to the sentence level. Something about the make and model of “the insured’s automobile” — a 2014 Hyundai Genesis — is tragically poetic. Then there is the issue of jurisdiction: M.B. resides in Kansas, and his Hyundai is insured there, but M.O. says they did their car-copulatin’ over the border in Missouri, where she lives. That’s also where she entered into arbitration with M.B., apparently without GEICO’s knowledge, and obtained a judgment for a $5.2 million reward that she “can collect, if at all, only from GEICO.” The company has accused the pair of colluding for a massive payout, and is challenging their right to stay pseudonymous throughout the proceedings to follow.
Judge Angel Mitchell of Kansas, for her part, had a hilariously dry response to M.O. and M.B.’s request to keep their full names secret, writing that, “any allegedly private details became less private (although the court questions how private those details actually were if they were having sex in a car) when M.O. sent GEICO a demand letter making an insurance coverage claim.”
The latest ruling also states that during the company’s investigation, M.B. said he and M.O. have had sex in “locations other than the insured vehicle,” and that she had been with other sexual partners in the same period. But aside from the near-impossibility of determining where and when the infection occurred, GEICO’s defense (should the matter go so far) will probably rest in the argument that the alleged injuries “have no nexus to the ownership, maintenance or covered use of the 2014 Hyundai Genesis.”
In other words, M.O. would need to demonstrate how her HPV can be linked to the car in anything more than incidental fashion.
Oddly, there is precedent for this sort of litigation. In 1985, Stewart Perry, a Minneapolis lawyer, secured a $25,000 settlement from Prudential Property and Casualty Insurance Company for his client, who had contracted herpes from a policyholder when they’d had sex in his house. Though it never went to court, Perry publicized the victory, which led to similar actions and, eventually, the homeowner insurance companies writing exclusions for “communicable disease” into their policy language so they couldn’t be held liable in such cases. Of course, this hasn’t stopped enterprising personal injury lawyers from debating terminology here and there, but the fact remains that GEICO, primarily an auto insurer, seems not to include this exemption.
Could this vulnerability mean that M.O. has a shot at raking in millions over an STI that affects, well, millions of Americans?
Let’s put it this way: better odds than an insurer ponying up for medical bills when you claim you got COVID-19 at an Outback Steakhouse. With an imaginative lawyer, lots of ridiculous outcomes are plausible. I guess the lesson is, if you’re gonna raw-dog a fuck buddy, make sure you’re someplace underwritten by a multibillion-dollar corporation.