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Homa v. Chalme

Superior Court of Delaware

January 30, 2018

RONALD S. HOMA, Plaintiff,
v.
CLAMENE S. CHALME, and STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendants.

          Submitted: November 30, 2017

         Upon Defendant State Farm Mutual Automotive Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment: Granted

          Beverly L. Bove, Esquire, and Vincent J. X. Hedrick, II, Esquire, of BEVERLEY L. BOVE ATTORNEY AT LAW, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorneys for Plaintiff.

          Beth H. Christman, Esquire, of CASARIO, CHRISTMAN, SHALK, RANSOM & DOSS, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LeGrow, J.

         This case arose from a motor vehicle accident involving Plaintiff and the drivers of two other vehicles, one uninsured and one underinsured. Plaintiffs insurer, Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), tendered the uninsured motorist policy limits to satisfy Plaintiffs claims against the uninsured motorist. Plaintiff argues, however, that his claim for underinsured motorist benefits is a separate claim for which State Farm also is liable, notwithstanding the limits in the policy. The question presented by State Farm's motion for summary judgment involves the scope of coverage mandated by Section 3902 of the Delaware Insurance Code. Plaintiff argues Section 3902 requires insurance companies to provide two separate types of coverage: uninsured and underinsured. State Farm argues that under Section 3902, underinsured coverage is part of the additional uninsured coverage that an insured may purchase. I find that Section 3902 includes underinsured motorist coverage within the definition of uninsured coverage and therefore is a single type of coverage against which an insured may make a claim. Because State Farm already tendered the uninsured policy limits for this accident, it is entitled to summary judgment.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The following facts are drawn from the amended complaint and the record provided by the parties. On March 12, 2015, an unknown red pick-up truck entered defendant Clamene Chalme's driving path and struck the left side of her vehicle as she traveled westbound on Boulden Boulevard. Chalme then negligently drove across three lanes of opposing traffic and struck Plaintiffs vehicle as he traveled southbound on U.S. Route 13. Plaintiff was injured as a result. The driver of the red truck never was identified and Chalme's insurance only provided $15, 000 in personal injury coverage. At the time of the accident, Plaintiff held an insurance policy with State Farm. Plaintiff brought suit against Chalme for negligence and against State Farm for uninsured and underinsured benefits under Plaintiffs policy.

         Under the terms of Plaintiff s policy, State Farm afforded Plaintiff uninsured motorist coverage up to $100, 000 per person in an accident.[1] The policy also stated that uninsured motorist coverage encompassed underinsured motorist coverage.[2] The parties do not dispute that the plain language of Plaintiffs policy limits his uninsured and underinsured coverage to $100, 000 per person regardless of the number of vehicles involved in the accident.

         Plaintiff nevertheless filed suit for $100, 000 in uninsured motorist coverage for the unknown red pick-up truck and $100, 000 in underinsured motorist coverage for Chalme's vehicle. On June 2, 2017, the parties attended mediation and signed a settlement agreement in which Plaintiff received $15, 000 from Chalme and $100, 000 from State Farm in satisfaction of its uninsured motorist benefits. Plaintiff, however, maintained this action to recover an additional $100, 000 in underinsured motorist benefits for which State Farm disclaims liability. Defendant State Farm filed a motion for summary judgment.

         The Parties' Contentions

         Plaintiff argues State Farm's policy limits on underinsured benefits is void under 18 Del. C. § 3902 because the policy restricts his uninsured/underinsured coverage to $100, 000. Plaintiff argues Section 3902 requires insurance companies to provide separate coverage for two separate types of risk. According to Plaintiff, Section 3902(a) protects insureds from an uninsured, or hit-and-run, motorist, while Section 3902(b) protects insureds from underinsured motorists. Under Plaintiffs theory, Defendant Chalme was the underinsured motorist in this case, the unknown pick-up truck was the uninsured motorist, and Section 3902(b) entitles Plaintiff to $200, 000 in coverage in connection with the accident on March 12, 2015: $100, 000 for each motorist. Plaintiff contends the language in his policy purporting to limit total uninsured and underinsured claims to $100, 000 per person, per accident, is contrary to Section 3902 and therefore void.

         In response, State Farm argues that, under Section 3902(b), uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage protects insureds against the same risk. Subsection (b), State Farm argues, is designed to allow insureds to expand the scope of their uninsured motorist coverage beyond the statutory minimum provided in subsection (a). State Farm argues subsection (b) does not create coverage separate from subsection (a), but rather expands that coverage to include drivers whose insurance does not cover the extent of the injuries sustained in an accident. Plaintiffs coverage, State Farm contends, was limited to $100, 000 in recovery whether the collision resulted from an uninsured motorist, an underinsured motorist, or both. Because Plaintiff received $100, 000 in benefits under his uninsured/underinsured coverage, State Farm argues it satisfied the terms of Plaintiffs policy and Section 3902.

         ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment should be awarded if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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."[3] When considering a motion for summary judgment, the evidence and the inferences drawn from the evidence are to be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[4] The Court will accept "as established all undisputed factual assertions . . . and accept the non- movant's version ...


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