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Lockhart v. Progressive Northern Insurance Co.

Court of Common Pleas of Delaware, New Castle

March 19, 2018

JEFFREY LOCKHART, Plaintiff,
v.
PROGRESSIVE NORTHERN INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          Joseph J. Longobardi, III, Esq. Longobardi & Boyle, LLC Attorney for Plaintiff

          Donald M. Ransom, Esq. Casarino Christman Shalk Attorney for Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          SHELDON K. RENNIE, JUDGE

         The issue before this Court concerns whether an injured passenger has a right to be reimbursed for payment of medical bills under a non-relative's automobile insurance policy. On January 19, 2018, the Court heard Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Counter-Motion for Summary Judgment. This is the Court's decision on the cross-motions after consideration of the pleadings, oral argument, and the applicable case law.

         FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         At this phase of the proceedings, the Court will briefly summarize the procedure and facts relevant to the determination of this motion.

         On February 28, 2017, Anita M. Byrd ("Ms. Byrd") and Jeffrey Lockhart ("Plaintiff) were traveling on 11th Street, crossing King Street in Wilmington, Delaware, when Ms. Byrd's vehicle was side-swiped by a second vehicle which protruded into her lane. At the time of this accident, Ms. Byrd was not driving her personal vehicle, which is insured by Progressive Northern Insurance Company ("Defendant"), but a rental vehicle registered in Pennsylvania.[1] Plaintiff, as a passenger, avers that he suffered "serious and permanent injuries" as a result of the accident.[2] Believing himself to be a member of Ms. Byrd's household, Plaintiff submitted medical bills to Defendant for payment, pursuant to Ms. Byrd's insurance policy which granted Personal Injury Protection (PIP) benefits.[3] Defendant denied Plaintiffs claim for PIP benefits.[4]

         On April 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant for breach of contract and bad faith stemming from its failure to pay his medical bills.[5] Plaintiff requests the Court enter a money judgment against Defendant for payment of Plaintiff s PIP benefits, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney's fees, statutory interest, punitive damages, and costs.[6]

         On July 5, 2017, Defendant filed an answer claiming insufficient knowledge or information to form a belief as to the truth of most of the allegations. Notwithstanding, Defendant admitted that, at the time of the accident, Ms. Byrd was insured by Defendant, but denies that Plaintiff was covered as a member of her household pursuant to the PIP policy. On January 5, 2018, Defendant filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Delaware Court of Common Pleas Rule 56(c), asserting that Plaintiff possesses no contractual right under Ms. Byrd's PIP policy and, accordingly, a bad faith denial did not occur.[7] On January 16, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Counter-Motion for Summary Judgment[8] And, on January 18, 2018, Defendant filed its Response to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment.[9]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "When opposing parties make Cross Motions for Summary Judgment, neither party will be granted summary judgment unless no genuine issue of material fact exists and one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."[10] Court of Common Pleas Civil Rule 56(c) provides that "[t]he judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith 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."[11] Diverging from the Superior Court's Civil Rule 56(h), Court of Common Pleas' Civil Rule 56 adheres to the original approach of addressing cross-motions for summary judgment.[12] The original approach to cross-motions for summary judgment, as previously articulated by the Superior Court and currently followed by the Court of Common Pleas is as follows:

[T]he Court notes that where the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment, as here, "the standard for summary judgment 'is not altered.' "Moreover, the existence of cross motions for summary judgment does not act per se as a concession that there is an absence of factual issues." "Rather, a party moving for summary judgment concedes the absence of a factual issue and the truth of the nonmoving party's allegations only for the purposes of its own motion, and does not waive its right to assert that there are disputed facts that preclude summary judgment in favor of the other party." "Thus, the mere filing of a cross motion for summary judgment does not serve as a waiver of the movant's right to assert the existence of a factual dispute as to the other party's motion."[13]

         DISCUSSION

         For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds for Defendant. Title 21 Del. C. § 2118(a) provides:

No owner of a motor vehicle required to be registered in this State, other than a self-insurer pursuant to § 2904 of this title, shall operate or authorize any other person to operate such vehicle unless the owner has insurance on such motor vehicle providing the following minimum insurance coverage... .[14]

         Regarding the inclusiveness of insurance coverage, § 2118(a)(2)d states:

The coverage required by this paragraph shall also be applicable to the named insureds and members of their households for accidents which occur through being injured by an accident with any motor vehicle other than a Delaware insured motor vehicle while a pedestrian or while occupying any registered motor vehicle other than a Delaware registered insured motor vehicle, in any state of the United States, its territories or possessions or Canada.[15]

Section 2118 does not define "members of their households." However, the Delaware Administrative Code has defined the phrase: "[f]or the purpose of this coverage members of the owner's household shall be members of the named insured's immediate family not having a separate household, and persons actually residing with and economically dependent upon him/her.''''[16] The Insurance Commissioner has adopted and promulgated this regulation pursuant to Titles 18, 21, and 29.[17] Thus, as the regulation does not conflict with a relevant statute, the regulation is legally binding.[18]

         Turning to the contract at issue, Part II of Ms. Byrd's "Delaware Auto Policy"-i.e. Ms. Byrd's PIP policy-states:

If you pay the premium for this coverage, we will pay reasonable and necessary covered expenses:
1. incurred as a result of bodily injury sustained by an insured person in a motor vehicle accident; and
2. incurred within two years of the date of such motor vehicle accident.
ADDITIONAL DEFINITIONS When used in this Part II:
2. "Insured person" or "insured persons" means:
a. you, a relative, or any other household resident who is economically dependent on the named insured, when injured:
(i) as a pedestrian in an accident involving any land motor vehicle; or
(ii) while occupying any registered motor vehicle other than a Delaware registered insured motor vehicle..., [19]

         Listed under the "GENERAL DEFINITIONS" section of the Delaware Auto Policy:

10. "Relative" means a person residing in the same household as you, and related to you by blood, marriage or adoption, and includes a ward, stepchild, or foster child. Your unmarried dependent children temporarily away from home will qualify as a relative if they intend to continue to reside in your household.
[...]
16. "You" and "your" mean:
a. a person shown as a named insured on the declarations ...

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