677 S.E.2d 299 (Va. 2009), 081900, Virginia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Williams

Docket Nº:Record 081900.
Citation:677 S.E.2d 299, 278 Va. 75
Opinion Judge:Justice BARBARA MILANO KEENAN.
Party Name:VIRGINIA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY v. Virginia C. WILLIAMS, an Infant Who Sues by Her Father and Next Friend, Robert Williams, et al.
Attorney:Harley W. Duane, III; Justin S. Gravatt (Duane, Hauck & Gnapp, on briefs), Richmond, for appellant. John G. Crandley (O.L. Gilbert; Preston, Wilson & Crandley; Gilbert, Albiston & Keller, on brief), Virginia Beach, for appellees Virginia C. Williams and Robert Williams.
Judge Panel:Present: All the Justices.
Case Date:June 04, 2009
Court:Supreme Court of Virginia

Page 299

677 S.E.2d 299 (Va. 2009)

278 Va. 75

VIRGINIA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY

v.

Virginia C. WILLIAMS, an Infant Who Sues by Her Father and Next Friend, Robert Williams, et al.

Record No. 081900.

Supreme Court of Virginia.

June 4, 2009

Page 300

Harley W. Duane, III; Justin S. Gravatt (Duane, Hauck & Gnapp, on briefs), Richmond, for appellant.

John G. Crandley (O.L. Gilbert; Preston, Wilson & Crandley; Gilbert, Albiston & Keller, on brief), Virginia Beach, for appellees Virginia C. Williams and Robert Williams.

Present: All the Justices.

OPINION

Justice BARBARA MILANO KEENAN.

[278 Va. 78] In this appeal, we consider whether an exclusion in an automobile insurance policy prohibited an insured party from " stacking," or combining, the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for bodily injury (UM/UIM coverage) on the three separate vehicles listed in the policy.

The facts of this case are not in dispute. Virginia C. Williams, who was then a minor, was injured in an automobile accident while riding as a passenger in a vehicle. Both the vehicle in which Williams was riding and a second vehicle involved in the accident were underinsured.

Williams qualified as an insured of the first class under her father's automobile insurance policy issued by Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (the policy). The policy provides coverage for three separate vehicles, none of which was involved in the accident. The UM/UIM coverage portion of the policy states under the heading entitled " Schedule Limit of Liability:"

Bodily Injury $ See Declarations each person
$ See Declarations each accident
Property Damage $ See Declarations each accident.
Several paragraphs later, in the same UM/UIM section of the policy, the policy states:

Limits of Liability: Regardless of the number of ... motor vehicles to which this insurance applies, a) [i]f the schedule or declarations indicates split limits of liability, the limit of liability for bodily injury

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stated as applicable to " each person" is the limit of the company's liability for all damages because of bodily injury sustained by one person as the result of any one accident and, subject to the above provision respecting " each person" the limit of liability for bodily injury stated as applicable to " each accident" , is the total limit of the company's liability for all damages because of bodily injury sustained by two or more persons as the result of any one accident.

The policy " declarations" page lists in the " limits of liability" section one premium paid for a vehicle having UM/UIM coverage of $250,000 for each person and $500,000 coverage for each accident. Two additional premiums paid on two other listed vehicles each provide [278 Va. 79] UM/UIM coverage of $300,000 for each person and $500,000 for each accident. Williams, by her father as next friend, filed a complaint in the circuit court seeking a declaration of her rights under the policy, asserting that she was entitled to UM/UIM coverage in the total amount of $850,000, which represents the combined UM/UIM bodily injury coverage for each person for the three insured vehicles.[*] Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (Farm Bureau) filed an answer and a motion for summary judgment asserting that the terms of the policy's UM/UIM coverage prohibited " intrapolicy stacking" and, thus, that the maximum potential UM/UIM coverage for Williams was $300,000. Williams also filed a motion for summary judgment asking the circuit court to declare that she was entitled to UM/UIM coverage of $850,000 under the policy. After conducting a hearing on the cross-motions for summary judgment, the circuit court entered an order granting each of the motions in part. The circuit court determined that the total UM/UIM coverage afforded to Williams under the policy was $550,000. We granted Farm Bureau's petition for appeal, and also granted Williams' assignment of cross-error. On appeal, Farm Bureau contends that the circuit court erred in interpreting the policy's UM/UIM coverage. Farm Bureau argues that although Virginia law permits " intrapolicy stacking" of UM/UIM coverage, the policy at issue expressly prohibits such stacking. Farm Bureau relies on our decision in Goodville Mutual Cas. Co. v. Borror, 221 Va. 967, 275 S.E.2d 625 (1981), in which we held that unambiguous language in the policy at issue prohibited the stacking of UM/UIM coverage for the two vehicles listed in the policy. Farm Bureau contends that its policy contains substantially similar language prohibiting the stacking of UM/UIM coverage. In addition, Farm Bureau argues that any alleged ambiguity regarding whether Williams is entitled to $250,000 or $300,000 in UM/UIM coverage has been resolved in Williams' favor, because Farm Bureau agreed to pay Williams the larger of the two amounts listed for each person in the declarations page of the policy. In response, Williams asserts that the policy language regarding UM/UIM coverage is ambiguous and, therefore, must be construed to [278 Va. 80] afford Williams the maximum combined UM/UIM bodily injury coverage listed in the declarations page. In her assignment of cross-error, Williams asserts that the circuit court should have stacked the UM/UIM coverage available for all three insured vehicles and declared that Williams is entitled to UM/UIM coverage in the amount of $850,000, rather than $550,000. Williams argues that the provisions of the policy before us are materially different from the policy provisions at issue in Goodville. Williams argues that, in the policy considered in Goodville, the unambiguous language prohibiting intrapolicy stacking was found entirely in the UM/UIM coverage provision section that also included a schedule listing available coverage of $25,000 for each person, and of $50,000 for each accident. Williams observes that, in contrast, the policy at issue in this case does not provide limits for each person and each accident in a designated Page 302 schedule stated within the UM/UIM section of the policy. Williams additionally asserts that the language in the policy limiting UM/UIM coverage to the amount designated for " each person," as stated in the declarations page, does not distinguish among the three separate UM/UIM coverage amounts for " each person" listed for the three insured vehicles. Thus, Williams argues that...

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