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Tillison v. Geico Secure Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware

May 15, 2017

RALPH TILLISON, III Plaintiff,
v.
GEICO SECURE INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

          Submitted: January 25, 2017

         Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment - DENIED

          Gary S. Nitsche, P.A., Joel H. Fredricks, Esquire, Weik, Nitsche & Dougherty, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Shae Chasanov, Esquire, Swartz Campbell, LLC, 300 Delaware Avenue, Attorney for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          William C. Carpenter, Jr. Judge.

         This case presents a claim for uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UIM") benefits pursuant to an automobile insurance policy issued by Defendant GEICO Secure Insurance Company ("GEICO"). Before the Court is GEICO's Motion for Summary Judgment. As explained below, GEICO's Motion must be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 17, 2014, Ralph Tillison, III ("Plaintiff") was injured in an automobile collision while riding as a passenger in a 2009 Ford Focus operated by Diane Alexander ("Alexander").[1] As the vehicle was proceeding onto Interstate 95 near the City of Wilmington, Alexander "negligently caused her vehicle to strike another vehicle with force and violence" [2] At the time of the accident, Alexander was insured under an automobile policy issued by GEICO (the "Policy").[3] The Policy affords $20, 000 per person/$40, 000 per accident in both bodily injury liability and uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UIM") coverage.[4]

         Plaintiff received medical treatment following the accident and sought recovery against Alexander for his injuries. GEICO paid Plaintiff the Policy's $20, 000 liability limits.[5] Plaintiff then pursued a claim for UIM benefits under the Policy.

         Section V of the Policy reflects that GEICO agreed to "pay damages for bodily injury and property damage caused by accident which the insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle or hit and run auto arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that auto."[6] The definition of "uninsured motor vehicle" was amended to encompass "underinsured motor vehicles."[7] An "underinsured motor vehicle" is a vehicle insured by a bodily injury liability policy with limits less than the damages suffered by the insured.[8] The Policy's definition of uninsured motor vehicle expressly excludes "insured auto[s], " which refers to, in relevant part, any vehicle "[d]escribed in the declarations and covered by the bodily injury…liability coverages of this policy."[9]

         The 2009 Ford Focus Alexander was operating at the time of the accident appears in the Policy declarations, and is thus an "insured auto" under the Policy. As a result, GEICO informed Plaintiff that UIM coverage was unavailable as the 2009 Ford Focus "does not qualify as an underinsured motor vehicle per the terms of the [P]olicy…."[10] GEICO's denial letter further provides that, even if the Ford Focus "were deemed an underinsured motor vehicle, " UIM benefits would be unavailable per the Policy's exclusion of coverage for "[b]odily injury sustained by an insured while occupying, or through being struck by an uninsured motor vehicle owned by an insured…."[11] The instant litigation followed.

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint was filed on March 2, 2016. Plaintiff alleges GEICO "stands in the shoes of…Alexander and is contractually and statutorily liable pursuant to 18 Del. C. § 3902" for Alexander's negligent conduct.[12] On January 6, 2017, GEICO filed this Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 56. Plaintiff responded in opposition to the Motion and a hearing was held before this Court on January 25, 2017. This is the Court's decision on GEICO's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         In reviewing a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Superior Court Civil Rule 56, the Court must determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist.[13] The moving party bears the burden of showing that there are no genuine issues of material fact, such that he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[14] In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view all factual inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[15]Where it appears that there is a material fact in dispute or that further inquiry into the facts would be appropriate, summary judgment will not be granted.[16]

         III. DISCUSSION

         GEICO argues it is entitled to summary judgment because the Policy clearly and ambiguously prohibits Plaintiff from recovering both bodily injury liability and UIM benefits under Alexander's Policy. Even if such coverage were not excluded by the Policy's express terms, GEICO contends public policy weighs against allowing "intrapolicy stacking." [17] In this regard, GEICO claims the purpose of UIM is to "allow a driver to protect himself [or ...


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