Gonzales v. Allstate Ins. Co.

Citation921 P.2d 944,122 N.M. 137,1996 NMSC 41
Decision Date24 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 23066,23066
PartiesPauline A. GONZALES, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtNew Mexico Supreme Court

Page 944

921 P.2d 944
122 N.M. 137
Pauline A. GONZALES, Plaintiff-Appellant,
No. 23066.
Supreme Court of New Mexico.
July 24, 1996.
Rehearing Denied July 24, 1996.

Page 945

[122 N.M. 138] John R. Polk, Albuquerque, for Appellant.

Modrall, Sperling, Roehl, Harris & Sisk, P.A., Lisa Mann Burke, Jon T. Neumann, Albuquerque, for Appellee.


MINZNER, Justice.

On motion of Appellant Pauline Gonzales for rehearing and whatever further relief this Court deems just and proper, the opinion filed April 22, 1996 is withdrawn, and the following opinion is substituted in its place. The motion is otherwise denied.

Appellant Pauline Gonzales appeals the trial court's order granting summary judgment in favor of Appellee Allstate Insurance Co. Gonzales sought compensation for the wrongful death of her husband, who was killed when he was struck by an automobile. This appeal raises a single issue about the interpretation of specific provisions of an automobile insurance policy. We are asked to decide whether Gonzales's claim for loss of consortium is subsumed by the compensation paid for her husband's injury, or whether it is considered a separate additional sum. We conclude that, under the language of this specific policy, the claim for loss of consortium is subsumed under the compensation for the "bodily injury" suffered by Gonzales's husband because it is encompassed by the phrase, "damages sustained by anyone else as a result of that bodily injury." Additionally, we hold that under the language of the policy loss of consortium does not constitute a bodily injury to Gonzales that would entitle her to receive additional separate compensation. Finally, we hold that, thus construed, the policy does not contravene public policy as presently embodied in our uninsured motorists' insurance statute, NMSA 1978, Section 66-5-301(A) (Repl.Pamp.1994). Therefore, we affirm.


Gonzales and her husband, Benito, were the named insureds under an automobile insurance policy issued to them by Allstate. On June 18, 1994, Benito was killed while he was a pedestrian when he was struck by a vehicle driven by Jared Nash. Nash was insured by a GEICO insurance policy, under which Benito's estate received the policy limits as compensation for his wrongful death. Because the policy limits of the GEICO policy were exhausted, Gonzales turned to her own uninsured/underinsured coverage to pay the balance of the damages for her husband's wrongful death claim and also for her own loss of consortium.

Under the Allstate policy, Gonzales contracted for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for damages of up to $25,000 for each person to a maximum of $50,000 for each accident. Specifically, the policy's "Limits of Liability" provision provided:

Regardless of the number of insured autos under this coverage, the specific amount shown in the declarations is the maximum that we will pay under this coverage for:

1. "each person" for damages arising out of bodily injury in any one motor vehicle accident, including damages sustained by anyone else as a result of that bodily injury.

2. "each accident" for damages arising out of bodily injury to two or more persons in any one motor vehicle accident. This "each accident" limit is subject to the "each person" limit.

Allstate paid the full "each person" underinsured motorist coverage policy limits of $25,000 to Gonzales as personal representative of her husband's wrongful death claim. However, Allstate refused to provide further remuneration for her consortium claim under

Page 946

[122 N.M. 139] the "each accident" liability limit, alleging that the language in the policy precludes such recovery.

Gonzales then sought a declaratory judgment in district court to resolve the issue. Allstate moved for a judgment on the pleadings, and Gonzales moved for summary judgment. (Because the court referred to matters outside the pleadings, these motions were treated as cross-motions for summary judgment.) After a hearing, the trial court denied Gonzales's motion and granted judgment in favor of Allstate. Specifically, the court determined that loss of consortium did not constitute bodily injury as contemplated by the insurance policy and relevant statutes. This appeal followed.


In reviewing a grant of summary judgment, we must determine whether the moving party has demonstrated that there is no genuine issue of material fact and is therefore entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Roth v. Thompson, 113 N.M. 331, 334, 825 P.2d 1241, 1244 (1992). Since there are no genuine issues of material fact in this case, and only the conclusion of law is challenged, our task is to determine whether the district court correctly applied the law to the facts. Amica Mut. Ins. Co. v. Maloney, 120 N.M. 523, 527, 903 P.2d 834, 838 (1995).

The issue on appeal is whether Gonzales's claim for loss of consortium entitles her to a $25,000 maximum under the "each person" limitation, or a $50,000 maximum under the "each accident" limitation. In other words, is loss of consortium the result of the bodily injury sustained by her husband so as to make the "each person" limit applicable; or is loss of consortium a second claim for bodily injury, in addition to the injury sustained by her husband, that would invoke the "each accident" limit?

The vast majority of courts that have addressed the issue presented by this appeal have held that the "each person" limitation applies. The reasons given, however, are not always uniform, and have depended on the specific policy language in question and the requirements in the applicable statutes. We therefore must examine this question in light of the insurance policy provisions now before us and in light of our applicable statutes. We emphasize the policy provisions; in order to ascertain the risks Allstate and its policyholder assumed when Allstate issued its policy, our cases say the language in the particular insurance policy is critical. See New Mexico Physicians Mut. Liab. Co. v. LaMure, 116 N.M. 92, 95, 860 P.2d 734, 737 (1993) (discussing standards of review for interpreting policy language); Sanchez v. Herrera, 109 N.M. 155, 159, 783 P.2d 465, 469 (1989) (containing comparable discussion).

Gonzales argues that her claim falls within paragraph 2 for three reasons: (1) loss of consortium is a separate and independent action belonging to the spouse, and therefore merits recovery under the "each accident" limitation; (2) loss of consortium constitutes a separate compensable "emotional bodily injury"; and (3) restricting loss of consortium claims to the "each person" limitation is contrary to the policy embodied in our uninsured motorists' insurance statute. We examine each argument in turn, although we note that the terms of the "each person" limitation appear to control the answer to both the first and second arguments Gonzales raises on appeal.

A. Loss of consortium as an independent cause of action belonging to the spouse

Gonzales argues that because we have recognized loss of consortium as a separate cause of action belonging to the spouse, Romero v. Byers, 117 N.M. 422, 426, 872 P.2d 840, 844 (1994), such a claim is not a derivative claim but rather, as a matter of law, is a separate injury to a second person within the meaning of the "each accident" limitation. In addressing Gonzales's first contention, we consider whether the independent nature of a loss of consortium claim necessarily implicates the higher "each accident" policy limits. We conclude it does not.

In order to determine coverage, we initially look to the language of the policy itself. See LaMure, 116 N.M. at 95, 860 P.2d at 737 ("We interpret unambiguous insurance contracts

Page 947

[122 N.M. 140] in their usual and ordinary sense unless the language of the policy requires something different."). The "each person" limitation provides compensation for "bodily injury ... including damages sustained by anyone else as a result of that bodily injury," without regard to whether the damages recoverable were comprehended within one, or several, judgments or causes of action. The "each accident" limitation provides greater coverage for damages arising out of bodily injury to two or more persons in any one accident, but incorporates by reference the "each person" limitation. Under the terms of the policy, separate causes of action do not necessarily invoke the "each person" limit. The limits of liability under the policy are neither affected by nor contingent upon the number of...

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