Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. of Idaho v. Eisenman, 38703.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho
Writing for the CourtHORTON, Justice.
Citation153 Idaho 549,286 P.3d 185
Parties FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF IDAHO, Plaintiff–Counterdefendant–Appellant, v. Michael John EISENMAN, Kathryn Marie, individually and co-personal representatives of the Estate of Patricia Eisenman, Defendants–Counterclaimants–Respondents, and Rebecca L. McGavin and Peter Eisenman, individually, Defendants–Respondents.
Docket NumberNo. 38703.,38703.
Decision Date19 September 2012

153 Idaho 549
286 P.3d 185

FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF IDAHO, Plaintiff–Counterdefendant–Appellant,
Michael John EISENMAN, Kathryn Marie, individually and co-personal representatives of the Estate of Patricia Eisenman, Defendants–Counterclaimants–Respondents,
Rebecca L. McGavin and Peter Eisenman, individually, Defendants–Respondents.

No. 38703.

Supreme Court of Idaho, Boise, June 2012 Term.

Sept. 19, 2012.

286 P.3d 187

Saetrum Law Offices, Boise, for appellant. Rodney Saetrum argued.

Moore & Elia, LLP, Boise, for respondents. Michael Moore argued.

HORTON, Justice.

153 Idaho 551

This appeal arises from a declaratory judgment action brought by Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company of Idaho (Farm Bureau). Farm Bureau commenced the action in response to a claim for insurance benefits filed by the personal representatives of the estate of a deceased policyholder (the Estate). Farm Bureau requested a judgment declaring that the Estate is not an "insured" under the decedent's insurance policy (the Policy) and is therefore not entitled to payment of wrongful death damages under the Policy's underinsured motorist coverage.

The district court granted the Estate's motion for summary judgment, determining that Idaho's wrongful death statute, I.C. § 5–311, entitles the insured's Estate to recover damages for wrongful death and that the Policy provided coverage for those damages. Farm Bureau timely appealed. We reverse.


Farm Bureau sold Patricia Eisenman an insurance policy that provided coverage up to $500,000 for damages caused by an underinsured motorist. While crossing a Boise street on November 30, 2007, Eisenman was struck and killed by a car driven by a drunk driver. The driver's insurance carrier paid the Estate $50,000, which was the limit of the policy's liability coverage. Because the liability limit of the driver's policy was less than Eisenman's underinsured motorist coverage limit, the driver is an underinsured motorist within the definition in Eisenman's policy.

Eisenman is survived by four adult children: Michael Eisenman, Kathryn Marie, Rebecca McGavin, and Peter Eisenman (the Heirs). None of the Heirs were named as insureds on the Policy nor did any of the

153 Idaho 552
286 P.3d 188

Heirs live with Eisenman at the time of her death. Michael Eisenman and Kathryn Marie were appointed to serve as personal representatives of the Estate. On April 28, 2010, the Estate submitted a proof of loss to Farm Bureau. Pursuant to the underinsured motorist provision, the Estate claimed medical and funeral expenses and sought payment of damages for wrongful death under I.C. § 5–311. Eisenman's policy provided accidental death coverage, and Farm Bureau paid that benefit to the Estate as well as $22,941.40 for the "special damages" listed in the proof of loss. However, Farm Bureau denied the claim for wrongful death damages.

Farm Bureau first filed an action for declaratory relief on May 26, 2010. Farm Bureau later amended the complaint and asked for a declaration that the Heirs and the Estate "are not insureds under [the Policy] and that they cannot recover underinsured motorist payments under the underinsured motorist coverage...." The Estate and Heirs counterclaimed against Farm Bureau for breach of contract. The parties filed motions for summary judgment on the issue of whether the Estate or the Heirs are entitled to payment of wrongful death damages under the Policy's underinsured motorist coverage provisions. The district court denied Farm Bureau's motion and granted summary judgment in favor of the Estate and Heirs. Farm Bureau timely appealed and asks this Court to vacate the district court's judgment and enter judgment in its favor.


This Court reviews appeals from an order of summary judgment de novo and uses the same standard the trial court uses in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Curlee v. Kootenai Cnty. Fire & Rescue, 148 Idaho 391, 394, 224 P.3d 458, 461 (2008) (citing Lockheed Martin Corp. v. Idaho State Tax Comm'n, 142 Idaho 790, 793, 134 P.3d 641, 644 (2006) ). Under that standard, summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." I.R.C.P. 56(c). Additionally, we construe disputed facts in favor of the non-moving party, and draw all reasonable inferences from the record in favor of the non-moving party. Curlee, 148 Idaho at 394, 224 P.3d at 461. Where "the evidence reveals no disputed issues of material fact, then only a question of law remains, over which this Court exercises free review." Lockheed, 142 Idaho at 793, 134 P.3d at 644.

This Court exercises free review over questions of statutory interpretation and application. Flying Elk Inv., LLC v. Cornwall, 149 Idaho 9, 15, 232 P.3d 330, 336 (2010) (citations omitted). On review, "[a]n unambiguous statute must be given its plain, usual, and ordinary meaning. Statutory provisions should not be read in isolation but instead are interpreted in the context of the entire document." Id. "A statute is ambiguous where the language is capable of more than one reasonable construction." Hayden Lake Fire Prot. Dist. v. Alcorn, 141 Idaho 388, 398, 111 P.3d 73, 83 (2005) (quotation omitted), rev'd on other grounds by Farber v. Idaho State Ins. Fund, 152 Idaho 495, 272 P.3d 467 (2012). However, statutory language is not ambiguous "merely because the parties present differing interpretations to the court." State v. Doe, 140 Idaho 271, 274, 92 P.3d 521, 524 (2004) (citing Matter of Permit No. 36–7200, 121 Idaho 819, 823, 828 P.2d 848, 852 (1992) ).

In interpreting an insurance policy, "where the policy language is clear and unambiguous, coverage must be determined, as a matter of law, according to the plain meaning of the words used." Cascade Auto Glass, Inc. v. Idaho Farm Bureau Ins. Co., 141 Idaho 660, 662, 115 P.3d 751, 753 (2005) (quoting Clark v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 138 Idaho 538, 541, 66 P.3d 242, 245 (2003) ). A policy is ambiguous if it "is reasonably subject to conflicting interpretations." Cherry v. Coregis, 146 Idaho 882, 884, 204 P.3d 522, 524 (2009) (citing Farmers Ins. Co. of Idaho v. Talbot, 133 Idaho 428, 432, 987 P.2d 1043, 1047 (1999) ). We exercise free review in determining whether an insurance policy is ambiguous. Arreguin v.

153 Idaho 553
286 P.3d 189

Farmers Ins. Co. of Idaho, 145 Idaho 459, 461, 180 P.3d 498, 500 (2008) (citing Talbot, 133 Idaho at 432, 987 P.2d at 1047).


A. Eisenman's underinsured motorist coverage does not extend to heirs that are not insureds merely because the Estate is entitled to bring a wrongful death action on behalf of the heirs.

The Estate argues that it holds all contract rights the decedent held before her death and that it is legally entitled to recover damages for Eisenman's death under Idaho's wrongful death statute, Idaho Code § 5–311. Therefore, it argues, the Estate is entitled to payment of those damages pursuant to the underinsured motorist provision in the Policy, which provides that Farm Bureau will pay damages that an insured, as defined by the Policy, is legally entitled to recover.

The personal representative of an estate is "a fiduciary," who is "under a duty to settle and distribute the estate of the decedent...." I.C. § 15–3–703(a). However, as we explained in Whitley v. Spokane & Inland Railway Company, the personal representative's role in the context of wrongful death actions is only "as trustee for the heirs." 23 Idaho 642, 659, 132 P. 121, 126 (1913), aff'd sub nom. Spokane & I.E.R. Co. v. Whitley, 237 U.S. 487, 35 S.Ct. 655, 59 L.Ed. 1060 (1915). Along with these duties, a personal representative may "[e]xercise the same power as the decedent in performance, compromise or refusal to perform the decedent's contracts which continue as obligations of the decedent's estate." I.C. § 15–3–715(3). Idaho Code further provides that:

Except as to proceedings which do not survive the death of the decedent, a personal representative of a decedent domiciled in this state at his death has the same standing to sue and be sued in the courts of this state and the courts of any other jurisdiction as his decedent had immediately prior to death.

I.C. § 15–3–703(c) (emphasis added). Thus, while the personal representative "steps into the shoes" of the decedent to administer the estate, and may sue on causes of action the decedent may have pursued, the personal representative may not bring an action that abated upon the death of the decedent.

Any damages an estate recovers in an action for the wrongful death of the decedent inure solely to the benefit of the heirs. Claims for pain and suffering abate upon the death of the injured person. Evans v. Twin Falls...

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