Clark v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., No. 97-0970

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Citation218 Wis.2d 169,577 N.W.2d 790
Decision Date21 May 1998
PartiesBradley CLARK, Barnes A. Clark, Plaintiffs-Respondents, ABC Insurance Company, Plaintiff, v. AMERICAN FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.
Docket NumberNo. 97-0970

Page 790

577 N.W.2d 790
218 Wis.2d 169
Bradley CLARK, Barnes A. Clark, Plaintiffs-Respondents,
ABC Insurance Company, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 97-0970.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued March 5, 1998.
Decided May 21, 1998.

For the defendant-appellant there were briefs by John M. Moore, David J. Pliner and Bell, Metzner, Gierhart & Moore, S.C., Madison and oral argument by David J. Pliner.

For the plaintiffs-respondents there was a brief by John M. Riley and Atterbury, Riley & Luebke, S.C., Madison and oral argument by John M. Riley.

¶1 WILLIAM A. BABLITCH, Justice.

American Family Mutual Insurance Company appeals from an order of the circuit court which determined that a territorial exclusion contained in an insurance policy for uninsured motorist coverage was not valid under Wisconsin law. Bradley Clark (Clark) was injured on an island off the coast of Greece when the brakes failed on a moped that he had rented from an uninsured Greek citizen. Clark claimed uninsured motorist coverage under his father's automobile policy with American Family. The territorial exclusion in the policy excluded coverage for accidents occurring outside the United States and Canada. Because Wisconsin Statutes expressly allow exclusions not otherwise prohibited by law, and because an exclusion such as the one provided in this insurance policy is not prohibited by law, we reverse the order of the circuit court.

Page 791

¶2 The facts relevant to the determination of this appeal are not in dispute. In 1991, Clark, then 22 years old, was injured while driving a rented moped on an island off the coast of Greece. The brakes failed on the moped, and he was thrown. The owner of the moped was an uninsured Greek citizen.

¶3 Because the Greek citizen was uninsured, Clark sought recovery under the uninsured motorist provisions of his father's three automobile insurance policies with American Family Insurance. American Family denied coverage because each policy contains a general territorial exclusion which provides as follows: "This policy covers only accidents, occurrences, and losses which occur: a. Within the United States of America, its territories or possessions, or Canada, or between their ports...." This territorial exclusion is included in the section of the policy titled "General Provisions" and applies to all sections of the policy.

¶4 Clark and his father, the insurance policy-holder, filed suit against American Family, claiming that Clark was entitled to uninsured motorist coverage from American Family for the injuries he sustained in the accident. American Family filed a motion for summary judgment on several grounds including its assertion that the territorial exclusion in the policy barred Clark's recovery. The circuit court denied summary judgment on all grounds. With respect to the territorial exclusion, the court reasoned that although Wis. Stat. § 632.32(5)(e) (1989-90) 1 allows insurance companies to create exceptions from coverage for both liability and uninsured motorist coverage, case law has not upheld exceptions from uninsured motorist protection. Therefore, the circuit court determined that the territorial exclusion in American Family's policy did not apply to uninsured motorist coverage and, accordingly, Clark's claim for uninsured motorist benefits was covered.

¶5 The case proceeded to trial. The jury found the Greek citizen to be 65 percent negligent for failing to maintain the moped and found Clark to be 35 percent contributorily negligent for the accident. After imposing the 35 percent reduction for Clark's contributory negligence, see Wis. Stat. § 895.045, damages were assessed at $314,726. The circuit court granted Clark's motion for judgment on the verdict for damages of $314,726 together with costs of $8,913.

¶6 American Family appealed, and the court of appeals certified the case to this court, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § (Rule) 809.61, to determine whether a territorial exclusion included in an insurance policy for uninsured motorist coverage is valid. This question requires that we interpret Wis. Stat. § 632.32, governing uninsured motorist coverage. Statutory interpretation is a question of law which we review de novo. See Stockbridge School Dist. v. DPI, 202 Wis.2d 214, 219, 550 N.W.2d 96 (1996). The main goal of statutory interpretation is to discern the intent of the legislature. See Anderson v. City of Milwaukee, 208 Wis.2d 18, 25, 559 N.W.2d 563 (1997) (citations omitted). We first look to the plain language of the statute. See id. If the plain language is ambiguous, we turn to extrinsic aids such as the legislative history, scope, context and purpose of the statute to determine legislative intent. See id.

¶7 Wisconsin Stat. § 632.32 applies to all motor vehicle insurance policies issued or delivered in Wisconsin. See § 632.32(1). Wisconsin Stat. § 632.32(4)(a) requires that every automobile liability insurance policy issued in this state include uninsured motorist coverage. The statute requires uninsured motorist coverage in limits of at least $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. See § 632.32(4)(a).

¶8 Wisconsin Stat. § 632.32 also allows insurance companies to provide exclusions in automobile policies. See Wis. Stat. § 632.32(5)(e). "A policy may provide for exclusions not prohibited by sub. (6) or other applicable law." § 632.32(5)(e). This subsection is not ambiguous, and the legislature's intent is clear. We need not look beyond this unambiguous statutory language to discern the legislature's intent: the intent is to provide that an insurance contract may include exclusions not specifically listed in Wis. Stat. § 632.32(6) or prohibited by other applicable law.

Page 792

¶9 Therefore, the present case is resolved by considering: 1) whether the territorial exclusion in American Family's policy is prohibited by Wis. Stat. § 632.32(6); if not, then 2) whether the territorial exclusion is prohibited by other applicable law. If the answer to both questions is no, the territorial exclusion included in American Family's automobile insurance contract is valid and...

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23 practice notes
  • Blum v. 1st Auto & Cas. Ins. Co., Case No. :2008ap1324
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 14, 2010
    ...benefit from the analyses of the circuit court and court of appeals. Hull, 222 Wis. 2d at 636; Clark v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis. 2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998).III. DISCUSSION ¶16 This case presents three issues for our review. The first is whether Blum is entitled to com......
  • Teschendorf v. State Farm Ins. Companies, No. 2003AP3521.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 7, 2006
    ...§ 632.32(4) requires that every motor vehicle insurance policy include uninsured motorist coverage. Clark v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis.2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998). The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage is explained in the text of sub. (4). The purpose is to protect "pers......
  • Teschendorf v. State Farm Insurance Companies, 2006 WI 89 (Wis. 7/7/2006), No. 2003AP3521.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 7, 2006
    ...§ 632.32(4) requires that every motor vehicle insurance policy include uninsured motorist coverage. Clark v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis. 2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998). The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage is explained in the text of sub. (4). The purpose is to protect "per......
  • Hull v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 97-0659
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • December 15, 1998
    ...policy language and the interpretation of a statute. Both matters present questions of law. See Clark v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co., 218 Wis.2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998); Cardinal v. Leader Nat. Ins. Co., 166 Wis.2d 375, 382, 480 N.W.2d 1 (1992). Accordingly, this court reviews b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
23 cases
  • Blum v. 1st Auto & Cas. Ins. Co., Case No. :2008ap1324
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 14, 2010
    ...benefit from the analyses of the circuit court and court of appeals. Hull, 222 Wis. 2d at 636; Clark v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis. 2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998).III. DISCUSSION ¶16 This case presents three issues for our review. The first is whether Blum is entitled to com......
  • Teschendorf v. State Farm Ins. Companies, No. 2003AP3521.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 7, 2006
    ...§ 632.32(4) requires that every motor vehicle insurance policy include uninsured motorist coverage. Clark v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis.2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998). The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage is explained in the text of sub. (4). The purpose is to protect "pers......
  • Teschendorf v. State Farm Insurance Companies, 2006 WI 89 (Wis. 7/7/2006), No. 2003AP3521.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • July 7, 2006
    ...§ 632.32(4) requires that every motor vehicle insurance policy include uninsured motorist coverage. Clark v. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co., 218 Wis. 2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998). The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage is explained in the text of sub. (4). The purpose is to protect "per......
  • Hull v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 97-0659
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
    • December 15, 1998
    ...policy language and the interpretation of a statute. Both matters present questions of law. See Clark v. American Family Mutual Ins. Co., 218 Wis.2d 169, 173, 577 N.W.2d 790 (1998); Cardinal v. Leader Nat. Ins. Co., 166 Wis.2d 375, 382, 480 N.W.2d 1 (1992). Accordingly, this court reviews b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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