589 A.2d 944 (Md. 1991), 23, Forbes v. Harleysville Mut. Ins. Co.

Docket Nº23
Citation589 A.2d 944, 322 Md. 689
Opinion Judge[10] Eldridge
Party NameRobin FORBES, as Father and Next Friend of George Forbes and Connie Forbes, Minors, v. HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY.
Attorney[7]
Case DateMay 10, 1991
CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland

Page 944

589 A.2d 944 (Md. 1991)

322 Md. 689

Robin FORBES, as Father and Next Friend of George Forbes and

Connie Forbes, Minors,

v.

HARLEYSVILLE MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY.

No. 23

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

May 10, 1991

Page 945

[322 Md. 691] Gerard P. Uehlinger, Baltimore, for petitioner.

Malik J. Tuma, David D. Patton, Baltimore, on brief, for respondent.

Argued before MURPHY, C.J., ELDRIDGE, RODOWSKY and McAULIFFE, JJ., and HARRY A. COLE, [*] WILLIAM H. ADKINS and BLACKWELL, ** Associate Judges of the Court of Appeals (retired).

ELDRIDGE, Judge. [322 Md. 692]

The first issue in this case is whether the statutorily mandated uninsured motorist coverage in automobile liability insurance policies includes coverage for wrongful death claims. The second issue concerns the insured status of the deceased and the effect of that status on coverage for the wrongful death claims.

I.

Carol and Robin Forbes were married and had two children, George and Connie. Prior to August 4, 1984, the four resided in the home of Robin Forbes's mother in Baltimore City. On August 4, 1984, Carol Forbes left her mother-in-law's home and, along with Delbert Dean, moved into an apartment in Easton, Maryland, under a month-to-month lease. On or about August 27, 1984, Carol Forbes removed Connie and George from Baltimore to the Easton apartment. Robin Forbes did not consent to the removal of the children. In addition, the uncontradicted evidence before the trial court was that Carol Forbes at no time asked for or discussed with Robin Forbes a divorce. Carol Forbes did not change her voter registration to Easton and did not notify the Motor Vehicle Administration of any change in her address.

On September 22, 1984, Carol Forbes was killed in an accident while riding as a passenger in Delbert Dean's uninsured motor vehicle. Connie and George Forbes were also passengers and were injured in the accident. The accident was caused by the negligence of Dean, the uninsured driver.

Robin Forbes, as spouse of Carol Forbes and as next friend of George and Connie Forbes, filed an action in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County against his uninsured motorist carrier, Harleysville Mutual Insurance Company, [322 Md. 693] and against Delbert Dean, the tortfeasor. 1 Counts one and two

Page 946

of the complaint, as amended, sought damages on behalf of Connie and George Forbes for the personal injuries which they had received in the accident. In counts three, four, and five, claims were made on behalf of Connie, George and Robin Forbes respectively for the wrongful death of Carol Forbes.

Dean fled the jurisdiction and has never been located. An order of default was entered against Dean on all five counts.

Harleysville filed a motion for summary judgment, and, after a hearing, the circuit court denied the motion as to counts one and two requesting damages for the personal injuries to the children. With regard to counts three, four and five, however, summary judgment was granted in favor of Harleysville. The circuit court held that wrongful death damages could not be recovered by Robin Forbes and the children under the uninsured motorist coverage because, at the time of the wrongful death, Carol Forbes had moved out of Robin Forbes's home and, therefore, was not an "insured" under the policy. On June 28, 1988, the circuit court entered judgment on counts one and two against Delbert Dean and Harleysville, and on counts three, four and five solely against Dean. 2 [322 Md. 694]

Robin Forbes, individually and on behalf of the children and the subrogee Maryland Automobile Insurance Fund, filed a notice of appeal to the Court of Special Appeals. While Forbes's appeal was pending in that court, the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion in Globe American Casualty v. Chung, 76 Md.App. 524, 547 A.2d 654 (1988), vacated, 322 Md. 713, 589 A.2d 956 (1991), in which the Court of Special Appeals took the position that the statutorily required uninsured motorist coverage in automobile insurance policies does not include wrongful death claims. In reaching this result, the Court of Special Appeals relied upon the language of the insurance policy involved in that case, and upon the language of Maryland Code (1957, 1991 Repl.Vol.), Art. 48A, § 541(c)(2), which refers to "damages which the insured is entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured vehicle because of bodily injuries sustained in an accident arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of such uninsured motor vehicle." (Emphasis added). The use of the phrase "bodily injuries" without any reference to "death," and the use of the word "insured" without any reference to "the surviving next-of-kin," led the Court of Special Appeals to conclude that wrongful death claims were not encompassed by the statutorily mandated uninsured motorist coverage. Globe American Casualty v. Chung, supra, 76 Md.App. at 541, 547 A.2d at 662.

After the Court of Special Appeals filed its opinion in the Chung case, but before the present case was briefed and argued in the Court of Special Appeals, the plaintiff-appellant Robin Forbes filed in this Court a petition for a writ of certiorari. The petition presented the following two questions:

1. "Does the uninsured motorist statute require coverage for wrongful death claims, contrary to the Court of Special Appeals' holding in Globe American Casualty v. Boo Hyun Chung, Pers. Rep.? "

2. "Is an uninsured motorist insurance carrier responsible to pay a judgment in favor of minor children for the wrongful death of their mother, where the mother was [322 Md. 695] married to but not living with the father at the time she was killed by the negligent uninsured driver?" 3

Page 947

This Court granted the petition, and we shall reverse that portion of the judgment in favor of Harleysville concerning the wrongful death claims on behalf of the children.

II.

The first issue is whether the uninsured motorist coverage required by statute extends to damages arising from a wrongful death caused by the negligence of an uninsured motorist.

The General Assembly has enacted a comprehensive insurance scheme, with numerous mandatory coverages, for motor vehicles required to be registered in Maryland and for motor vehicle insurance policies issued in Maryland. See Code (1977, 1987 Repl.Vol., 1990 Cum.Supp.) §§ 17-101 through 17-110 of the Transportation Article; Code (1957, 1991 Repl.Vol.), Art. 48A, §§ 234B, 240AA through 242, 243 through 243L, and 538 through 547. See, e.g., Nationwide v. USF & G, 314 Md. 131, 133-136, 550 A.2d 69, 70-71 (1988); Lee v. Wheeler, 310 Md. 233, 528 A.2d 912 (1987); Jennings v. Government Employees Ins., 302 Md. 352, 357, 488 A.2d 166, 168-169 (1985). As part of this comprehensive scheme, Art. 48A, § 541(c), requires that "every policy of motor vehicle liability insurance issued, sold, or delivered in this State" contain uninsured motorist coverage "in at least the amounts required under Title 17 of the Transportation Article...." 4 [322 Md. 696]

In taking the position that the uninsured motorist coverage required by Art. 48A, § 541(c), does not encompass wrongful death claims, the Court of Special Appeals in Globe American Casualty Company v. Chung, supra, and Harleysville in the instant case, seized upon certain words in one sentence of § 541(c)(2), without regard to the legislative purpose reflected in § 541(c) and without regard to the other language in the section. 5 Nevertheless, in

Page 948

construing [322 Md. 697] statutes in order to ascertain the legislature's intent, we do not read particular language in isolation or out of context. We construe statutory language in light of the legislature's general purpose and in the context of the statute as a whole. Kaczorowski v. City of Baltimore, 309 Md. 505, 513-516, 525 A.2d 628, 632-633 (1987). See Jones v. State, 311 Md. 398, 405, 535 A.2d 471, 474-475 (1988).

Our cases have emphasized that the uninsured motorist statute "embodies a public policy 'to assure financial compensation to the innocent victims of motor vehicle accidents who are unable to recover from financially irresponsible uninsured motorists.' " Lane v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 321 Md. 165, 169, 582 A.2d 501, 503 (1990), quoting Pennsylvania Nat'l. Mut. v. Gartelman, 288 Md. 151, 157, 416 A.2d 734, 737 (1980). See Lee v. Wheeler, supra, 310 Md. at 238, 528 A.2d at 915. Also, we have consistently stated that "the purpose of uninsured motorist statutes is 'that each insured under such coverage have available the full statutory minimum to exactly the same extent as would have been available had the tortfeasor complied with the minimum requirements of the financial responsibility Law.' " Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Webb, 291 Md. 721, 737, 436 A.2d 465, 474 (1981), quoting Webb v. State Farm [322 Md. 698] Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., 479 S.W.2d 148, 152 (Mo.App.1972). See Hoffman v. United Services Auto. Ass'n, 309 Md. 167, 172, 522 A.2d 1320, 1322 (1987). See also Lee v. Wheeler, supra, 310 Md. at 237, 528 A.2d at 914. Moreover, we have said that " 'the remedial nature' of the uninsured motorist statute 'dictates a liberal construction in order to effectuate its purpose....' " Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Webb, supra, 291 Md. at 737, 436 A.2d at 475, quoting State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. v. Maryland Auto. Ins. Fund, 277 Md. 602, 605, 356 A.2d 560, 562 (1976). Finally, limitations on coverage or exclusions in insurance policies, which are inconsistent with the purpose of the uninsured motorist statutory provisions, are unenforceable. See, e.g., Nationwide v. USF & G, supra, 314 Md. at 135, 141, 550 A.2d at 71, 74; Gable v. Colonial Ins. Co., 313 Md. 701, 703-704, 548 A.2d 135, 136 (1988); Lee v. Wheeler, supra, 310 Md. 233, 528 A.2d 912; Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Webb,...

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