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Villalobos-Martin v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.

Superior Court of Delaware

May 14, 2019

Jose Villalobos-Martin and Jose Villalobos-Gomez, Plaintiffs,
v.
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, Defendant.

          Submitted: March 12, 2019

         Upon Defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company's Motion for Summary Judgment: GRANTED.

         Upon Plaintiffs Jose Villalobos-Martin and Jose Villalobos-Gomez's Motion for Summary Judgment: DENIED.

          Cynthia H. Pruitt, Esq., Doroshow Pasquale Krawitz & Bhaya, Attorney for Plaintiffs.

          Donald M. Ransom, Esq., Beth A. Swadley, Esq., Casarino Christman Shalk Ransom & Doss, P.A., Attorneys for Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Sheldon K. Rennie, Judge.

         Plaintiff, Jose Villalobos-Martin (the "Father"), maintained an automobile insurance policy (the "Policy") with defendant Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company ("Nationwide"). Plaintiff, Jose Villalobos-Gomez (the "Son," collectively with the Father, "Plaintiffs"), who was previously on the Policy, had been excluded from it since 2011. The Son was involved in a 2016 automobile accident. Plaintiffs brought this declaratory action against Nationwide, contending that the original exclusion was no longer valid in 2016, and therefore the Son was eligible for coverage under the Policy for that accident. Nationwide disagrees and contends that the exclusion has always been effective. Now before the Court are the parties' cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, wherein the sole issue is whether the Son was still effectively excluded from the Policy at the time of the 2016 accident.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         The facts in this case are basically undisputed. By a letter (the "Exclusion Letter") dated April 29, 2011, Nationwide notified the Father that it would not renew the Policy due to a "[s]evere violation for [the Son]."[1] The "severe violation" was identified as "reckless driving on 10/22/10."[2] In the Exclusion Letter, Nationwide indicated that it would continue the Policy with the Father if he agreed to exclude the Son from it.[3] The Father agreed to the exclusion and signed the applicable waiver.[4] Nationwide also offered the Son the option to get coverage under a separate policy.[5] The Son rejected that offer and instead obtained coverage from another insurer.[6] Since that time, the Father had renewed the Policy every six months, and each time the Son was listed as an excluded driver.[7]

         On October 30, 2016, the Son was involved in a motor vehicle collision while driving the Father's vehicle that was insured under the Policy.[8] Plaintiffs sought coverage for liability and property damage, and Nationwide declined coverage stating that the Son was not insured under the Policy.[9] On January 12, 2018, Plaintiffs filed this action against Nationwide, seeking a declaration that Plaintiffs are entitled to liability and property damage coverage under the Policy for the Son's October 2016 accident. After the conclusion of discovery, the parties filed cross-Motions for Summary Judgment.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A summary judgment under Superior Court Civil Rule 56 may be granted if the Court concludes 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."[10] The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no material issues of fact are present.[11] Once the moving party has made such a showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there are material issues of fact in dispute.[12] Upon consideration of a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the facts and make reasonable inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[13]

         III. PARTIES' CONTENTIONS

         Plaintiffs contend that there is a lookback period under the relevant statute which imposes a time limit on the efficacy of the exclusion. Because enough time had passed since the Son's 2010 accident/traffic citation, Plaintiffs argue, the Son became eligible to be insured under the Policy in 2014, well before the 2016 accident. Plaintiffs further contend that Nationwide, with superior knowledge and experience in the insurance industry, should have advised Plaintiffs of the Son's eligibility to be reinstated, and by failing to do so, ...


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