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Hament v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

January 18, 2007

NANCY HAMENT, AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF FRANCES HAMENT, DECEASED, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sidney H. Stein, U.S. District Judge

OPINION & ORDER

I. Introduction

The arcane but important question raised by this action has been directly addressed by neither the New York Court of Appeals nor the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. That question is whether or not payments received from both the underinsured driver of an offending vehicle and from the vicariously liable owner of that vehicle are to be aggregated for purposes of determining whether the limit of the Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist ("SUM") provision in the insurance contract has been met. For the reasons as set forth below, this Court has determined that the payments are to be aggregated.

This action stems from an automobile accident in which Frances Hament died after another vehicle -- driven by Joan Beck pursuant to a lease with the Toyota Motor Credit Corporation -- collided with Hament's car. Hament's estate filed the present complaint seeking a judgment directing defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company -- which insured Hament's car -- to pay it $150,000 pursuant to the SUM provision in that contract. That provision limits underinsurance coverage payments to $250,000, and the plaintiff estate seeks $150,000 from State Farm because Beck was insured for only $100,000. However, State Farm contends that plaintiff has already received not only $100,000 from Beck's insurer but also an additional $400,000 from Tokio Marine Insurance Company on behalf of the vicariously liable Toyota, and therefore plaintiff has received more than the $250,000 limit in the SUM provision and is entitled to nothing more. The Hament estate responds that Tokio Marine's payment on behalf of Toyota should not count against the limit in the SUM provision because, plaintiff contends, Toyota should legally be considered an independent tortfeasor and payments from independent tortfeasors are not aggregated for purposes of the SUM provision. Both parties now move for summary judgment.

As set forth below, this Court finds that the SUM provision clearly limits payments to $250,000; the Hament estate has already received $500,000 in insurance coverage from various sources connected to the offending Beck vehicle; the Court is aware of no New York statute, regulation, or case law that contradicts the language of the State Farm SUM limit at issue. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied and the complaint is dismissed.

II. Background

Except as noted, the following facts are undisputed. Frances Hament died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident on July 26, 2003. (Defendant's Local Civil Rule 56.1 Statement ("Def.'s Rule 56.1") at ¶ 3; Plaintiff's Counter Statement of Material Fact to Defendant's 56.1 Statement ("Plt.'s Rule 56.1") at ¶ 3; Aff. of Nancy Hament dated April 17, 2006 at ¶ 2.) The accident occurred when a vehicle driven by Joan Beck collided with Hament's vehicle. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶3; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶3; Hament Aff. ¶ 3.) According to plaintiff, the accident was the fault of Joan Beck. (Hament Aff. ¶ 3; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 statement dated April 21, 2006, at ¶ 2.) Beck's vehicle was owned by Toyota, (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶5; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶5; Hament Aff. ¶ 4.), which according to plaintiff, had leased the vehicle to a corporate entity connected with Beck's husband. (Hament Aff. ¶ 4.) Beck was insured by a policy with a limit of $100,000 for bodily injury damages to third parties. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶4; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶4; Hament Aff. ¶ 5.)

Frances Hament was insured pursuant to a policy issued by defendant State Farm, and the policy includes a SUM provision with a limit of $250,000. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶1; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶1; Hament Aff. ¶ 6 and Exh. A.) The provision provides coverage for "all sums that the insured or the insured's legal representative shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury sustained by the insured, caused by an accident arising out of such uninsured motor vehicle's ownership, maintenance or use." (Def. Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment, Exh. C ("State Farm Policy"), at ¶ II.) The policy defines "uninsured motor vehicle" as a vehicle for which "there is a bodily injury liability insurance coverage or a bond applicable to such motor vehicle at the time of the accident, but . . . the amount of such insurance is less than the third-party bodily injury liability of this policy." (Id. at ¶ I(c).)

Nancy Hament, as executrix of the estate of Fran Hament, filed a prior action against Beck and Toyota for the personal injury and wrongful death of Frances Hament. (Hament Aff. ¶ 7.) The estate recovered $100,000 from Beck (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶7; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶7; Hament Aff. ¶ 7.), which was Beck's policy limit for bodily injury to third parties. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶4; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶4; Hament Aff. ¶5.) Separately, the estate settled with Toyota for a payment of $400,000. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶8; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶8; Hament Aff. ¶ 8.) The $400,000 payment was made by Tokio Marine, which was the insurer for Toyota. (Def.'s Rule 56.1 ¶8; Plt.'s Rule 56.1 ¶8; see also, Exh. D to Defendant's Notice of Motion for Summary Judgment.) According to plaintiff, its damages exceeded -- by some unspecified amount -- $500,000, which was the total collected by plaintiff from Beck ($100,000) and Toyota ($400,000). (Hament Aff. ¶ 9.) Therefore, plaintiff sought an additional $150,000 from State Farm pursuant to the SUM provision in Hament's policy because it had only received $100,000 from Beck and the SUM limit was $250,000. State Farm declined to pay, contending that plaintiff had already recovered $500,000 -- which is more than the SUM limit. Plaintiff then commenced the present action. As noted above, both parties now move for summary judgment.

III. Discussion

A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate only if the evidence shows that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Allen v. Coughlin, 64 F.3d 77, 79 (2d Cir. 1995); LaFond v. Gen. Physics Servs. Corp., 50 F.3d 165, 171 (2d Cir. 1995). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the Court "is to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Patterson v. County of Oneida, 375 F.3d 206, 219 (2d Cir. 2004); see also LaFond, 50 F.3d at 171. However, the party opposing summary judgment "may not rely on mere conclusory allegations or speculation, but instead must offer some hard evidence" in support of its factual assertions, D'Amico v. City of New York, 132 F.3d 145, 149 (2d Cir. 1998), such that "'there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party.'" Golden Pacific Bancorp v. F.D.I.C., 375 F.3d 196, 200 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986)).

Where, as here, both parties have moved for summary judgment, the same legal standards apply. See Morales v. Quintel Entm't, Inc., 249 F.3d 115, 121 (2d Cir. 2001). "[E]ach party's motion must be examined on its own merits, and in each case all reasonable inferences must be drawn against the party whose motion is under consideration." Id. (citing Schwabenbauer v. Bd. of Educ., 667 F.2d 305, 314 (2d Cir. 1981)).

B. Pursuant to the "Maximum SUM Payments" Provision of Hament's State Farm Policy, Plaintiff Is Not ...


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