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Johnson v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware

October 16, 2017

DONALD R. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Defendant.

          Submitted: September 11, 2017

         Upon Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment GRANTED

          Gary S. Nitsche, Esquire, Joel H. Fredericks, Esquire, Weik, Nitsche & Dougherty, Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Beth H. Christman, Esquire, Brian V. Dermott, Esquire, Casarino Christman Shalk Ransom & Doss, P.A., Attorneys for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          The Honorable Andrea L. Rocanelli

         This is an insurance dispute arising out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on October 22, 2014. Plaintiff Donald Johnson ("Plaintiff") was a pedestrian when he was struck by a motor vehicle operated by Fredia Brinkley ("Brinkley"). At the time of the accident, Brinkley was insured under a policy ("Brinkley's Policy") with Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"). Brinkley's Policy provided Brinkley with liability, uninsured motorist ("UM"), and underinsured motorist ("UIM") coverage. Following the accident, State Farm tendered the liability coverage policy limits on Brinkley's Policy to Plaintiff. Plaintiff then sought to recover UIM benefits from State Farm as an insured under Brinkley's Policy, which State Farm denied.

         Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed a complaint on March 20, 2017, alleging that he is entitled to UIM benefits as an insured under Brinkley's Policy with State Farm. State Farm moves for summary judgement, contending that Plaintiff does not qualify as an insured under Brinkley's Policy and that Brinkley's vehicle does not meet the required definition of uninsured vehicle. Plaintiff opposes State Farm's motion.

         Standard of Review

         The Court may grant summary judgment only where the moving party can "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."[1] The moving party bears the initial burden of proof and, once that is met, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that a material issue of fact exists.[2] At the motion for summary judgment phase, the Court must view the facts "in the light most favorable to the non-moving party."[3]

         Discussion

         Brinkley's Policy provides UIM coverage for injuries that "an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of an uninsured motor vehicle."[4]The policy defines "insured" to include the named insured, resident relatives, and "any other person while occupying [the named insured's] car."[5] It further defines "occupying" to mean "in, on, entering, or exiting."[6] In addition, Brinkley's Policy defines "uninsured motor vehicle" to exclude any vehicle "whose ownership, maintenance, or use is provided Liability Coverage by this policy."[7]

         The parties do not dispute the material facts in this case. However, State Farm contends, as a matter of law, that Plaintiff is not entitled to UIM benefits based on two terms in the policy language. First, State Farm contends that Brinkley's vehicle had liability coverage, thereby excluding it from the definition of uninsured vehicle in the UIM insuring agreement. Second, State Farm argues that Plaintiff cannot meet the definition of insured to recover UIM benefits under Brinkley's Policy. The Court rejects State Farm's argument that Brinkley's vehicle was not an uninsured vehicle, but agrees that Plaintiff cannot qualify as an insured on Brinkley's Policy.

         I.State Farm's definition of "uninsured motor vehicle" is inconsistentwith Delaware statutory ...


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