Payne v. Weston, No. 22644

CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia
Writing for the CourtCLECKLEY; MILLER; ALBRIGHT
Citation466 S.E.2d 161,195 W.Va. 502
PartiesAngela L. PAYNE and Glenville Payne, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants, v. Richard L. WESTON and Allstate Insurance Company, A Corporation, Defendants Below, Appellees.
Decision Date08 December 1995
Docket NumberNo. 22644

Page 161

466 S.E.2d 161
195 W.Va. 502
Angela L. PAYNE and Glenville Payne, Plaintiffs Below, Appellants,
v.
Richard L. WESTON and Allstate Insurance Company, A
Corporation, Defendants Below, Appellees.
No. 22644.
Supreme Court of Appeals of
West Virginia.
Submitted Sept. 20, 1995.
Decided Dec. 8, 1995.

Page 163

[195 W.Va. 504] Syllabus by the Court

1. There is no common law right to stack coverage available for multiple vehicles under the same policy or under two or more insurance policies. The right to stack must arise from the insurance contract itself (as that is the agreement of the parties) or from a statute (as in the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage statutes).

2. "A limitation of liability clause within an automobile liability insurance policy which limits coverage for any one occurrence, regardless of the number of covered vehicles, does not violate any applicable insurance statute or regulation, and there is no judicial policy that prevents an insurer from so limiting its liability and yet collecting a premium for each covered vehicle because each premium is for the increased risk of an 'occurrence.' " Syl. pt. 5, Shamblin v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., 175 W.Va. 337, 332 S.E.2d 639 (1985).

3. An insured is not entitled to stack liability coverages for every vehicle covered by his or her policy when the insured received a multi-car discount, when only one vehicle was involved in the accident, and when the policy contains language limiting the insurer's liability.

Vincent J. King, James M. Barber, Hunt & Barber, Charleston, for Appellants.

Benjamin L. Bailey, Stuart A. McMillan, Bowles, Rice, McDavid, Graff & Love, Charleston, for Appellees.

CLECKLEY, Justice:

Angela L. Payne and Glenville Payne, the plaintiffs below and appellants herein, filed suit in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County after Mrs. Payne was injured when her car was struck by a car driven by Richard L. Weston, one of the defendants below and appellants herein. Her husband, Glenville

Page 164

[195 W.Va. 505] Payne, sought damages for loss of consortium. They appeal the June 10, 1994, order of the circuit court which granted summary judgment to Mr. Weston's insurer, Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate), a defendant below and appellee herein. The circuit court found the language of Mr. Weston's automobile insurance policy prohibited stacking of the liability coverage. 1 On appeal, the plaintiffs assert the policy does not prohibit stacking of liability coverage when multiple vehicles are covered under the same policy.

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 19, 1991, Mrs. Payne was severely injured when her car was struck head on by Mr. Weston's car on Interstate 79 near the Elkview exit. She underwent various surgical procedures that required hospitalization for more than one month. The plaintiffs allege that to date Mrs. Payne has incurred medical bills in excess of $90,000 and has been unable to return to work.

In September of 1992, the plaintiffs filed suit against Mr. Weston and Allstate. Allstate answered the complaint and filed a counterclaim seeking a declaration of the coverage limits available under Mr. Weston's insurance policy with Allstate. Mr. Weston's policy contained bodily injury liability limits of $300,000 per person and $500,000 per accident. In addition to the 1985 Chevrolet Blazer involved in the accident, Mr. Weston owned a 1986 Mercury Sable that was covered by the automobile insurance policy. In October of 1992, a settlement was reached whereby the plaintiffs received $300,000 from Allstate to cover the per person limit of the policy. Mr. Weston was released from all personal liability for damages in excess of his insurance coverage. The plaintiffs were able to pursue recovery from Allstate for any additional money available under the policy. 2

The plaintiffs and defendants filed motions for summary judgment. On July 15, 1993, the circuit court conducted a hearing to allow the parties to present arguments on this issue. The circuit judge who conducted this hearing retired from the bench before entering an order and the case was assigned to a successor judge. Another hearing was held on June 1, 1994. Following this hearing, the circuit court found:

"[T]he separability clause and limitations of liability clause at issue herein unambiguously state that liability limits apply to each car separately and that the 'each person' limit is the limit of liability for all damages sustained by any one person in any one occurrence. Therefore this Court concludes that the plaintiffs cannot stack the liability coverage for both of Weston's two vehicles, but instead, are only entitled to $300,000, the per person limit shown on the declaration sheets."

Accordingly, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendants.

The sole issue in this appeal is whether the language of the policy allows the plaintiffs recovery up to the aggregated or stacked limits of the liability policy covering both of Mr. Weston's vehicles--the 1985 Blazer involved in the accident and his 1986 Sable--which would leave Allstate with a total potential liability of $600,000 (twice the $300,000 per person limit). Before discussing the parties' arguments, we underscore two points of utmost importance: (1) this case deals only with the liability coverage of the tortfeasor and not with uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage; and (2) Mr. Weston has one policy covering the two vehicles and received a multi-car discount.

II.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A.

Summary Judgment

On appeal, we conduct a de novo review of the circuit court's decision to grant

Page 165

[195 W.Va. 506] summary judgment on behalf of Allstate. Syl. pt. 1, Painter v. Peavy, 192 W.Va. 189, 451 S.E.2d 755 (1994). Indeed, we review a circuit court's award of summary judgment under the same standards that the circuit court initially applied to determine whether summary judgment was appropriate. Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 58, 459 S.E.2d 329, 335 (1995). Summary judgment is mandated if the record, when reviewed most favorably to the nonmoving party, discloses "that there is no genuine issue of fact to be tried and inquiry concerning the facts is not desirable to clarify the application of the law." Syllabus Point 3, in part, Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Federal Ins. Co. of New York, 148 W.Va. 160, 133 S.E.2d 770 (1963). See Andrick v. Town of Buckhannon, 187 W.Va. 706, 421 S.E.2d 247 (1992). Summary judgment is not a remedy to be exercised at the circuit court's option; it must be granted when there is no genuine dispute over a material fact.

On the other hand, if the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party, then summary judgment will not lie. Summary judgment will be affirmed only if we are convinced, after an independent review of the record, that there is no genuine issue of any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Material facts are those necessary to the proof of a claim or defense and are determined by reference to the substantive law. Where the unresolved issues are primarily legal rather factual, summary judgment is particularly appropriate.

Because the material facts are not in dispute in this case, the only issue before this Court is the legal question of determining the proper coverage of the liability insurance contract. We, therefore, find the matter was ripe for summary judgment. Accordingly, if there are no genuine issues of material fact as to the policy's coverage, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the plaintiffs' claim for additional insurance coverage.

"[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) [of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be 'no genuine issue as to any material fact,' since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 273 (1986).

The plaintiffs' burden of proof is easily stated. Under West Virginia law, the plaintiffs must prove both the existence of an applicable insurance contract and its material terms. It is only when the plaintiffs have established a prima facie case of coverage that the burden of production shifts to the defendants. In this context, the plaintiffs must present sufficient evidence to show the existence of each element of their case on which they will bear the burden at trial.

B.

Insurance Contract

The pertinent provisions of the automobile liability policy at issue are set forth in the footnote. 3 The interpretation of

Page 166

[195 W.Va. 507] an insurance contract, including the question of whether the contract is ambiguous, is a legal determination which, like the court's summary judgment, is reviewed de novo on appeal. Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. at 62 n. 18, 459 S.E.2d at 339 n. 18. In West Virginia, insurance policies are controlled by the rules of construction that are applicable to contracts generally. We recognize the well-settled principle of law that this Court will apply, and not interpret, the plain and ordinary meaning of an insurance contract in the absence of ambiguity or some other compelling reason. Our primary concern is to give effect to the plain meaning of the policy and, in doing so, we construe all parts of the document together. We will not rewrite the terms of the policy; instead, we enforce it as written. Syllabus Point 1 of Russell v. State Automobile Mutual Insurance Company, 188 W.Va. 81, 422 S.E.2d 803 (1992), states: " 'Where the provisions of an...

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102 practice notes
  • Coleman v. Sopher, No. 23943.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 1997
    ...as to its meaning[.]" Syl. pt. 1, in part, Shamblin v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 175 W.Va. 337, 332 S.E.2d 639 (1985). Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 507, 466 S.E.2d 161, 166 (1995). See also Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 65 n. 23, 459 S.E.2d 329, 342 n. 23 (1995) ("A con......
  • Am. States Ins. Co. v. Surbaugh, No. 11–1186.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 6, 2013
    ...an insurance contract, including the question of whether the contract is ambiguous, is a legal determination[.].”). In Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 466 S.E.2d 161 (1995). Justice Cleckley addressed the parameters for invoking a jury trial on an insurance coverage issue: In West Virginia,......
  • Murray v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., No. 24759
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 21, 1998
    ...(1963). In this case we are primarily asked to review the circuit court's interpretation of an insurance contract. In Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 506-07, 466 S.E.2d 161, 165-66 (1995), we discussed the applicable standard of review in such cases, stating that "[t]he interpretation of an......
  • Findley v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 30842.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 6, 2002
    ...of the parties) or from a statute (as in the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage statutes). Syl. pt. 1, Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 466 S.E.2d 161 (1995). Regarding policy language that prohibits the recovery of UIM benefits where liability coverage has already been collected, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
102 cases
  • Coleman v. Sopher, No. 23943.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 20, 1997
    ...as to its meaning[.]" Syl. pt. 1, in part, Shamblin v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 175 W.Va. 337, 332 S.E.2d 639 (1985). Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 507, 466 S.E.2d 161, 166 (1995). See also Williams v. Precision Coil, Inc., 194 W.Va. 52, 65 n. 23, 459 S.E.2d 329, 342 n. 23 (1995) ("A con......
  • Am. States Ins. Co. v. Surbaugh, No. 11–1186.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • February 6, 2013
    ...an insurance contract, including the question of whether the contract is ambiguous, is a legal determination[.].”). In Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 466 S.E.2d 161 (1995). Justice Cleckley addressed the parameters for invoking a jury trial on an insurance coverage issue: In West Virginia,......
  • Murray v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., No. 24759
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • July 21, 1998
    ...(1963). In this case we are primarily asked to review the circuit court's interpretation of an insurance contract. In Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 506-07, 466 S.E.2d 161, 165-66 (1995), we discussed the applicable standard of review in such cases, stating that "[t]he interpretation of an......
  • Findley v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 30842.
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • December 6, 2002
    ...of the parties) or from a statute (as in the uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage statutes). Syl. pt. 1, Payne v. Weston, 195 W.Va. 502, 466 S.E.2d 161 (1995). Regarding policy language that prohibits the recovery of UIM benefits where liability coverage has already been collected, ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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