Walker v. Progressive Direct Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER..IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants' motion for summary judgment (#24) is GRANTED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment (#31) is DENIED.. Signed by District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr on 1/22/16. (MRS)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
PROGRESSIVE DIRECT INS. CO.,
Case No. 1:15-CV-33 SNLJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Ronda Walker’s husband, Steve Walker, was fatally injured while riding
his motorcycle. Plaintiff seeks underinsured motorist insurance pursuant to two policies
the Walkers had with defendants Progressive Direct Insurance Company and Progressive
Max Insurance Company. Both plaintiff and defendants have moved for summary
judgment (#25, #31), and those motions are now ripe for disposition.
The underlying facts of this lawsuit are undisputed. Plaintiff’s claim for
underinsured motorist coverage against defendants is for the wrongful death of Steve
Walker. Plaintiff Ronda Walker was married to Steve Walker, but they were separated at
the time of the accident, and he had been living in another dwelling for three months
before the accident. Steve Walker and Ronda Walker were named insureds on insurance
policies written by the defendants for six vehicles. Steve Walker also had an insurance
policy that covered the motorcycle he was operating on March 22, 2012 when he was
fatally hit by a car driven by a third party. Plaintiff Ronda Walker settled with the third
party driver’s insurance company for the maximum amount under that driver’s policy,
$25,000. Plaintiff Ronda Walker did not own the motorcycle Steve Walker was riding,
and the insurance policy covering the motorcycle did not have underinsured motorist
coverage. So plaintiff seeks to obtain the underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage
offered by the policies for which she is a named insured.
The relevant policy sets forth Part III(B) Underinsured Motorist coverage as
follows, with defined terms in bolded font:
If you pay the premium for this coverage, we will pay for damages
that an insured person is legally entitled to recover from the owner
or operator of an underinsured motor vehicle because of bodily
sustained by that insured person;
caused by an accident; and
arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an
underinsured motor vehicle.
The policy further states that, when used in Part III(B),
“Insured person” means:
you or a relative;
any person who is entitled to recover damages covered
by this Part III(B) because of bodily injury sustained
by a person described in a, b, or c above.
However, the policy set forth an “owned vehicle exclusion.” The exclusion states
Coverage under this Part III(B) will not apply:
to bodily injury sustained by any person while using or
a motor vehicle that is owned by or available for the
regular use of you or a relative. This exclusion does
not apply to a covered auto that is insured under this
The policies also include the following relevant definitions:
“You” and “your” mean “a person shown as a named insured on the
“Bodily injury” means “bodily harm, sickness, disease, including death,
that results from bodily harm sickness or disease.”
“Relative” means “person residing in the same household as you, and
related to you by blood, marriage, or adoption.”
Plaintiff contends that she is entitled to payment of the UIM insurance proceeds
because her husband was killed in a car accident caused by an underinsured motorist.
Defendant contends that the policies’ “owned vehicle exclusion” precludes plaintiff from
recovering the UIM proceeds in light of the fact that Steve Walker was driving a
motorcycle that he owned but that was not a covered vehicle. The parties have filed
cross-motions for summary judgment.
Summary Judgment Standard
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), a district court may grant a
motion for summary judgment if all of the information before the court demonstrates that
“there is no genuine issue as to material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law.” Poller v. Columbia Broadcasting System, Inc., 368 U.S. 464, 467
(1962). Because “the interpretation and construction of insurance policies is a matter of
law, ... such cases are particularly amenable to summary judgment.” John Deere Ins. Co.
v. Shamrock Indus., Inc., 929 F.2d 413, 417 (8th Cir. 1991).
Because this is a diversity case, the Court applies state substantive law and federal
procedural law. Gasperini v. Center for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 427 (1996); see
also Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938). Plaintiff’s claim is based on a
Missouri contract and an accident that occurred in Missouri. The parties appear to agree
that Missouri law controls.
Absent ambiguity, insurance contracts are enforced according to their terms.
Seeck v. Geico Gen. Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129, 132 (Mo. banc 2007). “In construing the
terms of an insurance policy, this Court applies the meaning which would be attached by
an ordinary person of average understanding if purchasing insurance, and resolves
ambiguities in favor of the insured.” Seeck v. Geico General Ins. Co., 212 S.W.3d 129,
132 (Mo. banc 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The “owned vehicle exclusion” at the heart of this case is an exclusion common to
automobile insurance policies. Such exclusions provide that “UIM coverage does not
apply to bodily injury claims sustained while the insured is occupying a vehicle owned by
him unless that vehicle is described on the policy’s declarations page.” Bush v. Shelter
Mutual Ins. Co., 412 S.W.3d 336, 340 (Mo. App. W.D. 2013). Although UIM coverage
typically follows the insured person --- even, say, if the insured is a passenger in someone
else’s vehicle --- the owned vehicle exclusion prevents insurance companies from paying
insurance proceeds on cars which are habitually used but for which the insurance
company has not been paid a premium. See Dutton v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co.,
454 S.W.3d 319, 323 (Mo. banc 2015). “That is, one cannot simply buy a policy of
insurance on one vehicle and then argue that the policy covers other vehicles that the
insured also owns but chose not to insure.” Id.
This Court recently addressed an owned vehicle exclusion in McDonald v. GEICO
Gen. Ins. Co., No. 4:14CV1468 SNLJ, 2015 WL 4393880, at *3 (E.D. Mo. July 16,
2015). There, the plaintiff was injured in an accident while riding his motorcycle; that
plaintiff tried to obtain UIM coverage under an insurance policy for a different vehicle,
but the policy excluded UIM coverage for injuries “while occupying…any motor vehicle
owned by the insured or a relative that is not described in the declarations…”. Id. at *6.
This Court held the motorcycle was excluded from UIM coverage because it was “owned
by the insured.” Id. at *7.
Here, had Steve Walker survived, it is clear that he would be unable to make a
UIM claim under the policies at issue because he owned the vehicle involved in the
accident. Plaintiff, however, argues that because she --- not Steve Walker --- seeks the
UIM coverage payment, the result is different. Looking again to the exclusion language
itself, it says that UIM coverage does not apply “to bodily injury sustained by any person
while using…a motor vehicle that is owned by or available for the regular use of you or a
relative…”. Plaintiff says she seeks coverage for (1) bodily injury (death) (2) sustained
by any person (Steve Walker) (3) while using a motor vehicle (motorcycle) (4) that is
owned by Steve Walker --- not by herself or by a “relative.”
Defendants do not dispute plaintiff’s characterization of what the Court has
labeled elements one, two, and three. The crux of this issue is what the policy means by
the fourth element --- “owned by or available for the regular use of you or a relative.”
Plaintiff argues that she did not own the motorcycle, nor was it available for her regular
use. Further, plaintiff argues --- and defendants agree --- that Steve Walker was not a
“relative” under the policy because he was not in plaintiff’s household at the time of the
Defendant says that “you” is not defined as solely pertaining to Ronda Walker,
however. Rather, “you” is defined as “a person shown as a named insured on the
Declarations page.” Plaintiff argues that “you” is ambiguous: because she is the insured
seeking coverage, does “owned by you” refer to herself or Mr. Walker? She says that an
ordinary person of average understanding would take it to mean “yourself,” but the
definition of “you” in the policy means “a person shown as a named insured on the
declarations page.” Plaintiff contends that the definition further confuses the matter
because both she and Steve Walker are named insureds on the declaration.
This Missouri Supreme Court is explicit that “[d]efinitions, exclusions, conditions,
and endorsements are necessary provisions in insurance policies. If they are clear and
unambiguous within the context of the policy as a whole, they are enforceable.” Allen v.
Cont'l W. Ins. Co., 436 S.W.3d 548, 554 (Mo. banc 2014) (quoting Todd v. Mo. United
Sch. Ins. Council, 223 S.W.3d 156, 163 (Mo. banc 2007)). Further, “[c]ourts may not
unreasonably distort the language of a policy or exercise inventive powers for the
purpose of creating an ambiguity where none exists.” Todd, 223 S.W.3d at 163. Here,
“you” is defined as “a person shown as a named insured,” which includes Steve and
Ronda Walker. The Court need not consider what other meaning “you” might take
because it is defined and unambiguous in the context of the policy. See id.; see also
Allen, 436 S.W.3d at 554. Thus, if the injury was sustained while in a vehicle owned by
you --- meaning either of the insureds --- and not covered by the policy, the exclusion
Plaintiff’s unworkable interpretation of “you” is further demonstrated --- as
defendant points out --- by the fact that her interpretation would mean that there would be
no UIM coverage anyway. Under the UIM coverage section, an “insured person” means
“a. you or a relative,” and “d. any person who is entitled to recover damages covered by
this Part III(B) because of bodily injury sustained by a person described in a, b, or c.”
Plaintiff is clearly claiming under section (d) as a person entitled to recover damages for
her husband’s bodily injury, and he is a “person described in” section (a) --- “you or a
relative.” Under plaintiff’s interpretation, this section of the policy reads “insured
person” means “a. Ronda Walker….d. any person who is entitled to recover damages
covered by this Part III(B) because of bodily injury sustained by Ronda Walker.” That
is, if “you” could only mean plaintiff herself, there would be nothing for her to recover
under UIM coverage because she was not injured.
Plaintiff also says it is confusing that the policy’s language extends the “owned
vehicle” exclusion to “any person” who is using or occupying that vehicle It is unclear
how the term “any person” is ambiguous --- it simply means that the policy does not
provide UIM coverage to anyone (related or not) if they are in a vehicle owned by the
named insureds. That is consistent with defendants’ application of the exclusion here.
Plaintiff suggests that the policy unfairly takes away insurance that she expected to
have. However, as noted above, it is clear that Steve Walker himself had no expectation
of any UIM benefits for the motorcycle he owned but did not insure. It appears plaintiff
seeks a different result because her husband was living in a different home, but the policy
terms are clear. The policy’s UIM coverage excludes coverage for vehicles owned by
named insureds that were not covered vehicles. Plaintiff’s decedent was a named insured
who owned the vehicle he was driving during the accident, and that vehicle was not
covered under the policies at issue here. There is no ambiguity, and defendants properly
Defendants’ motion will be granted. Plaintiff’s motion will be denied. Judgment
will be granted to defendants and against plaintiff.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendants’ motion for summary judgment
(#24) is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment
(#31) is DENIED.
Dated this 22nd day of January, 2016.
STEPHEN N. LIMBAUGH, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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