Defendants' interpretation of insurance policies found 'unreasonable' in car accident case

By Justin Stoltzfus | May 24, 2018

ST. LOUIS – In an insurance liability case against Acuity Insurance Co. U.S. District Judge John Ross granted Acuity's motion for summary judgment, finding that a defendant’s interpretation of insurance policies is “unreasonable,” in his May 15 ruling in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Eastern Division.

The case stems from Sept. 6, 2016, auto accident in in Montgomery County in which plaintiffs Kelly Marie and Scott Simler filed claims against Acuity regarding insurance liabilities. The Simlers, along with two other individuals, Linda Gartner and Terrell Guy, were involved in a collision with a vehicle driven by Kim Ross, an employee of Dubuque Painting Equipment Inc. Claims against Acuity rose from claims filed against Dubuque Painting’s business auto policy and an additional excess policy. Other insurance companies covering the individual claimants were named as defendants in other separate cases.

In the midst of this, Acuity filed an action for declaratory judgment, seeking a court order to set Acuity's liability below $2 million. The plaintiffs also filed their own motion for summary judgment on the declaratory judgment count, to which Judge Ross, in his order, responded that the court “believes that the amount deposited by plaintiff caps the court's jurisdiction over the interpleader count” and that accordingly, the court previously “ deferred ruling on the motion to deposit funds pending its resolution of the cross motions for summary judgment.”

In arguing for their interpretation of required compensation, the defendants advanced counterclaims asking for a liability limit of $1 million per person on each applicable policy, after which the court record shows Acuity filed a motion to deposit funds to put $2 million into court holdings.

In ruling, Judge Ross found that interpretation of the insurance policies in question seemed relatively simple.

“There is no genuine dispute of material fact as to what the policies say,” Ross wrote. “Because the ordinary meaning of ‘accident’ refers to the single cause of the multi-vehicle collision and not to the multiple injuries that resulted, the court concludes that plaintiff (Acuity) is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on its declaratory judgment count. ... the court additionally notes that granting plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (and denying the Simlers' cross motion) resolves the procedural issues preventing the court from ruling on plaintiff’s motion to deposit funds.”

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