McLaughlin v. Travelers Commercial Ins. Co.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Citation476 P.3d 1032,196 Wash.2d 631
Decision Date10 December 2020
Docket NumberNo. 97652-0,97652-0
Parties Todd MCLAUGHLIN, a Washington resident, Petitioner, v. TRAVELERS COMMERCIAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Respondent.

196 Wash.2d 631
476 P.3d 1032

Todd MCLAUGHLIN, a Washington resident, Petitioner,
v.
TRAVELERS COMMERCIAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Respondent.

No. 97652-0

Supreme Court of Washington.

Argued May 28, 2020
Filed December 10, 2020


Robert Craig Levin, Washington Bike Law, 705 2nd Ave. Ste. 1000, Seattle, WA, Philip Albert Talmadge, Aaron Paul Orheim, Talmadge/Fitzpatrick, 2775 Harbor Ave. Sw Unit C, Seattle, WA, for Petitioner.

Thomas Lether, Eric Jay Neal, Lether Law Group, 1848 Westlake Ave. N. Ste. 100, Seattle, WA, for Respondent.

Stephanie Alice Taplin, Newbry Law Office, 623 Dwight St., Port Orchard, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Cascade Bicycle Club.

Ian S. Birk, Gabriel Ernest Verdugo, Keller Rohrback, LLP, 1201 3rd Ave. Ste. 3200, Seattle, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of United Policyholders.

Daniel Edward Huntington, Richter-Wimberley PS, 422 W. Riverside Ave. Ste. 1300, Spokane, WA, Valerie Davis McOmie, Attorney at Law, 4549 Nw Aspen St., Camas, WA, for Amicus Curiae on behalf of Washington State Association for Justice Foundation.

MADSEN, J.

196 Wash.2d 633

¶1 Todd McLaughlin was riding his bicycle on a Seattle street when the door of a parked vehicle opened right into him. McLaughlin fell, suffered injuries, and sought insurance coverage for various losses, including his medical expenses.

¶2 McLaughlin's insurance policy covered those expenses if McLaughlin was a "pedestrian" at the time of the accident. Clerk's Papers (CP) at 39. McLaughlin argues that a bicyclist is a pedestrian, relying on the definition of "pedestrian" found in the Washington laws governing casualty insurance. RCW 48.22.005(11).

¶3 McLaughlin used to live in California and bought his automobile insurance policy there. That policy included medical payments, or MedPay coverage, which is similar to the personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that is required

196 Wash.2d 634

under Washington law.1 The salient question in this case, however, is the meaning of the undefined term "pedestrian" in McLaughlin's insurance policy. As explained below, under the terms of McLaughlin's insurance policy he was covered for medical payments, in the amount designated in the policy, for his bicycle-car accident if he qualified as a "pedestrian." Accordingly, the question for this court is whether the undefined term "pedestrian" in McLaughlin's automobile insurance policy includes bicyclists.

476 P.3d 1034

¶4 On this question the trial court ruled that the answer is no, reasoning that the plain, ordinary meaning of "pedestrian" excludes bicyclists. The Court of Appeals affirmed but relied largely on its view that the Washington statute defining pedestrian for purposes of casualty insurance, RCW 48.22.005(11) (discussed below), excludes bicyclists. McLaughlin v. Travelers Commercial Ins. Co. , 9 Wash. App. 2d 675, 680-82, 446 P.3d 654 (2019).

¶5 For the reasons discussed below, we disagree, reverse the Court of Appeals, and remand for further proceedings.

FACTS

¶6 McLaughlin was riding his bicycle near downtown Seattle when a motorist opened the door of his parked vehicle and hit McLaughlin. As a result, McLaughlin alleges that he "incurred tens of thousands of dollars in medical expenses." CP at 198.

¶7 At the time of the incident, McLaughlin was insured by Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. Travelers had issued McLaughlin an automobile policy in California, where McLaughlin had lived just before his move to Washington.

196 Wash.2d 635

The policy included MedPay coverage under which Travelers agreed to pay up to $5,000 worth of medical expenses incurred by an "insured." CP at 17-18, 39. The policy defined "insured" in part as "You ... as a pedestrian when struck by [ ] a motor vehicle ." CP at 39 (emphasis added). The policy did not define "pedestrian."

¶8 Shortly after the accident, McLaughlin filed a claim with Travelers. Travelers denied coverage because McLaughlin was not a "pedestrian" under the policy. CP at 64-65. Travelers quoted definitions of "pedestrian" purportedly from the Washington and California vehicle codes, both of which explicitly exclude bicyclists. Id. (purportedly quoting CAL. VEH. CODE § 467 ; apparently quoting from RCW 47.04.010(23) ).

¶9 McLaughlin asked Travelers to reconsider, but Travelers stuck with its original decision. McLaughlin then notified the Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner that he planned to sue Travelers and again attempted to resolve the dispute without a lawsuit. Travelers adhered to its original position.

¶10 McLaughlin sued Travelers for, among other claims, breach of contract. The parties stipulated to certain facts and filed cross motions for partial summary judgment on a single legal issue: "[W]hether [Travelers] breached its insurance contract when it denied coverage to [McLaughlin] for Medical Payments on grounds that [McLaughlin] was not injured as a ‘pedestrian.’ " CP at 11.

¶11 The trial court ruled that Travelers did not breach the contract because "an ordinary and common meaning of pedestrian does not include bicyclist." Summ. J. Hr'g at 22. Thus, the court granted Travelers’ motion for partial summary judgment and denied McLaughlin's. To make the trial court's order final and thus immediately appealable, McLaughlin successfully moved to voluntarily dismiss without prejudice all his claims except breach of contract. That voluntary dismissal, along with the parties’ stipulation to

196 Wash.2d 636

facts, provides the only issue for appeal: Under the insurance policy, does the word "pedestrian" include bicyclists?

¶12 Relying on the dictionary definition, the Court of Appeals began by holding that the term "pedestrian" does not include bicyclists. McLaughlin , 9 Wash. App. 2d at 680, 446 P.3d 654. The Court of Appeals additionally held that RCW 48.22.005(11), which defines pedestrian for purposes of casualty insurance in Washington also does not include bicyclists, by allegedly "harmoniz[ing]" this statute with the definition of "pedestrian" contained in the Washington vehicle code at RCW 46.04.400. Id. at 681, 446 P.3d 654.

¶13 McLaughlin sought review, which we granted. 194 Wn.2d 1016 (2020).2

ANALYSIS

I

¶14 As a threshold matter, Washington law applies here concerning application of

476 P.3d 1035

McLaughlin's insurance policy, which was originally issued in California. See Woodward v. Taylor , 184 Wash.2d 911, 915, 366 P.3d 432 (2016) (Washington law "presumptively applies" to cases filed in this state); see also Burnside v. Simpson Paper Co ., 123 Wash.2d 93, 103-04, 864 P.2d 937 (1994) (Washington trial court did not err in applying Washington law where a party failed to show a conflict between Washington's and another state's laws because "[a]bsent such a showing, the forum may apply its own law"); id . at 103, 864 P.2d 937 ("An actual conflict between the law of Washington and the law of another state must be shown to exist before Washington courts will engage in a conflict of law analysis."). Here, the parties agree that Washington law applies.

¶15 Further, Travelers has conceded that the California policy's MedPay coverage is equivalent to Washington PIP

196 Wash.2d 637

coverage for present purposes. In its briefing to the Court of Appeals, Travelers describes McLaughlin's insurance policy as containing various coverages, including "MedPay coverage (often referred to a[s] PIP coverage)," and continued to maintain that "Washington and California law are consistent with respect to the coverage issues presented." Br. of Resp't Travelers Commercial Ins. Co. at 4, 10 (Wash. Ct. App. No. 78534-6-I (2018)). That concession is valid. The nominal differences (e.g., required coverage amounts) are not material in the present context. The salient point is that McLaughlin's insurance policy provides for payments for injuries sustained by an insured.

¶16 Also, we are reviewing a summary judgment determination and thus focus our inquiry on the propriety of the trial court's ruling, limiting our inquiry to the record presented to the trial court and to the issues as presented to the trial court. See Dowler v. Clover Park Sch. Dist. No. 400 , 172 Wash.2d 471, 484, 258 P.3d 676 (2011) ("We review summary judgment rulings de novo, engaging in the same inquiry into the evidence and issues called to the attention of the trial court."); RAP 9.12 ("On review of an order granting or denying a motion for summary judgment the appellate court will consider only evidence and issues called to the attention of the trial court.").

¶17 In its motion for partial summary judgment, Travelers argued to the trial court that the issue presented was "Whether Plaintiff [McLaughlin] is entitled to MedPay Benefits under his Travelers’ Policy." CP at 69 (Def.’s Mot. for Partial Summ. J. Regarding Contractual Claims at 4). In its motion, Travelers conceded, "As set forth below, there is no conflict...

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