Holt v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.

Decision Date29 August 1986
Citation507 So.2d 388
PartiesCharles Dolan HOLT and Dixie Holt v. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY. 85-277.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Sam E. Loftin, Phenix City, for appellants.

J. Pelham Ferrell of Ferrell & McKoon, Phenix City, for appellee.

ADAMS, Justice.

Charles D. Holt and his wife Dixie Holt appeal from a declaratory judgment entered in favor of plaintiff, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (hereinafter "State Farm"), which determined that an automobile insurance policy issued to the Holts did not provide coverage to Dixie Holt while she was driving an automobile owned by her stepmother-in-law. We reverse.

On October 27, 1983, Dixie Holt was involved in an automobile accident while driving a Buick automobile owned by her stepmother-in-law, D.D. Holt. Dixie Holt and the occupants of the other automobile involved in the accident were injured. The occupants of the other automobile sued Dixie Holt to recover compensation for their injuries suffered in the accident.

D.D. Holt's Buick was insured by State Farm, but the coverage under her policy was inadequate to fully compensate the occupants of the other automobile for their injuries.

However, Dixie and Charles Holt were the named insureds under another automobile insurance policy issued by State Farm on a Ford automobile owned by them which provided higher coverage. Dixie Holt sought liability and medical coverage from State Farm on this policy. Responding to this claim, State Farm instituted a declaratory judgment action to determine its rights and obligations under the insurance policy on the Ford automobile.

The "non-owned automobile" provisions of the insurance policy under which Dixie Holt sought coverage provided in pertinent sections:

Coverage for the Use of Other Cars

The liability coverage extends to the use, by an insured, of a newly acquired car, a temporary substitute car or a non-owned car.

Who is an Insured

When we refer to your car, a newly acquired car or a temporary substitute car, insured means

1. you;

2. your spouse;

3. the relatives of the first person named in the declarations;

4. any other person while using such a car if its use is within the scope of consent of you or your spouse; and

5. any other person or organization liable for the use of such a car by one of the above named insureds.

When we refer to a non-owned car, insured means:

1. the first person named in the declarations;

2. his or her spouse;

3. their relatives; and

4. any person or organization which does not own or hire the car but is liable for its use by one of the above persons.

SECTION II--MEDICAL PAYMENTS--Coverage C

....

MEDICAL EXPENSES

We will pay reasonable medical expenses, for bodily injury caused by accident, for services furnished within one year of the date of the accident. These expenses are for necessary medical, surgical, X-ray, dental, ambulance, hospital, professional nursing and funeral services, eyeglasses, hearing aids and prosthetic devices.

Persons for Whom Medical Expenses are Payable.

We will pay medical expenses for bodily injury sustained by:

1. a. the first person named in the declarations;

b. his or her spouse; and

c. their relatives.

....

2. any other person while occupying:

a. a vehicle covered under the liability coverage except a non-owned car. Such vehicle has to be used by a person who is insured under the liability coverage; or * * *

....

A non-owned car is defined in the insurance policy as follows:

Non-Owned Car--means a car not:

1. owned by,

2. registered in the name of, or

3. furnished or available for the regular or frequent use of:

you, your spouse, or any relatives.

The use has to be within the scope of consent of the owner or person in lawful possession of it.

State Farm contended that there was no coverage under the non-owned automobile provisions of the insurance policy because D.D. Holt's Buick automobile was "furnished or available for the regular or frequent use" of Dixie Holt.

The following evidence relating to the use of the Buick automobile was presented to the jury at the trial:

Charles and Dixie Holt owned three vehicles--including the Ford--which were all insured through State Farm. However, the Holts lent the Ford to their son and daughter-in-law to drive until the son and daughter-in-law could purchase a larger automobile to transport their newly born twins. The Holts' son and daughter-in-law left their small truck at the Holts' house for Dixie Holt to drive if she desired.

D.D. Holt was living with Dixie and Charles Holt while she was recuperating from surgery. D.D. Holt asked Dixie Holt to drive her Buick to and from Dixie Holt's place of employment to build up the Buick's battery and to keep the automobile in running condition. D.D. Holt gave Dixie Holt the keys to the Buick and did not state a date on which Dixie Holt's use of the Buick was to cease. No limitations on the use of the Buick were specified by D.D. Holt. Dixie Holt drove the Buick to and from her place of employment for about ten days before the accident. On her way to work, she picked up her son's maid and drove her to the son's house.

There was testimony that although it was necessary to "jump start" the Buick initially, they had no further difficulty starting the car prior to the accident.

At the close of State Farm's evidence, the Holts moved for a directed verdict and renewed their motion at the close of all the evidence. The Holts contended that the evidence established as a matter of law that the Buick was not "furnished or available for the regular or frequent use" of Dixie Holt. The directed verdict was denied.

In its charge, the trial court defined the terms "frequent use" and "regular use." The trial court instructed the jury to decide the issue of "whether the automobile owned by Mrs. D.D. Holt ... was furnished or available for regular or frequent use of Dixie Holt," and no objection was made by either party to this instruction. The jury determined that the automobile had been furnished or made available for the regular or frequent use of Dixie Holt, and the trial court adjudged that, based upon the jury's determination of fact, Charles and Dixie Holt were not afforded coverage under their policy.

The Holts subsequently moved for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial. The motion was denied by the trial court and the Holts appealed.

Three issues are presented for our resolution:

1. Did the trial judge err by overruling the objections of the Holts' trial counsel to the remarks of State Farm's counsel during closing arguments?

2. Did the trial judge err by denying the Holts' motions for directed verdict, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and new trial?

3. Did the trial judge err by submitting to the jury the issue of whether the Buick automobile was furnished or available for the regular or frequent use of Dixie Holt?

I.

The record reflects the following occurrence during the closing argument of State Farm's counsel:

MR. FERRELL: * * * If you take the attitude, well, this is a big insurance company, it's got a lot of money we're just going to rule in favor of the defendants for that reason--what's that going to do to the insurance industry if juries--

MR. LOFTIN: Your Honor, excuse me. I'm going to have to object, may it please the Court. That's improper argument. I believe Mr. Ferrell knows that's improper argument. We respectfully request the jury be instructed to disregard that.

THE COURT: Objection will be overruled.

MR. LOFTIN: Note our exception.

MR. FERRELL: I submit to you that if you base--or juries base their verdicts in a case like this purely out of sympathy for the defendants, not on the basis of the facts, that insurance companies will soon go out of business.

MR. LOFTIN: We renew our objection, may it please the Court.

THE COURT: Same ruling.

The Holts argue that the above remarks by State Farm's counsel were an improper and prejudicial reference to the wealth or poverty of State Farm, and that the trial court erred by not granting their motion for new trial on this ground. State Farm asserts that the objection by the Holts' counsel on the stated ground that the remarks were "improper" was not sufficiently specific to preserve the objection for appellate review. Additionally, State Farm contends that any reference to the wealth or poverty of State Farm by its counsel could not be prejudicial to the Holts.

We are of the opinion that the alleged error in the ruling of the trial court on this issue was preserved for review on appeal. In Davis v. Southland Corp., 465 So.2d 397, 401 (Ala.1985), we stated:

It is generally recognized that, in order to preserve an error for appeal, a specific objection, rather than a general objection, must be made. C. Gamble, McElroy's Alabama Evidence, § 426.01(7) (3rd ed. 1977). This requirement has been incorporated in Rule 46, Ala.R.Civ.P., which provides, in pertinent part:

"[F]or all purposes for which an exception has heretofore been necessary it is sufficient that a party, at the time the ruling or order of the court is made or sought, makes known to the court the action which he desires the court to take or his objection to the action of the court and his grounds therefor...."

This Court has frequently refused to consider an objection where it was not accompanied by specific grounds. Crawford Coal Co. v. Stephens, 382 So.2d 536 (Ala.1980); Granberry v. Gilbert, 276 Ala. 486, 163 So.2d 641 (1964); Tankersley v. Webb, 263 Ala. 234, 82 So.2d 259 (1955).

However, we have also recognized that a specific ground is not required and a general objection will suffice if the ground "is so manifest that the court and counsel cannot fail to understand it." Jay v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 340 So.2d 456 (Ala.Civ.App.1976); see also Travis v. Hubbard, 267 Ala. 670, 104 So.2d 712 (1958). The instant case comes within this exception. The objection raised by couns...

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