Ruckdaschel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 97-194

Decision Date13 November 1997
Docket NumberNo. 97-194,97-194
Citation948 P.2d 700,285 Mont. 395
PartiesDavid RUCKDASCHEL, Sr., and Tami Ruckdaschel, Plaintiffs and Respondents, v. STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE CO., Defendant and Appellant.
CourtMontana Supreme Court

Susan P. Roy, Garlington, Lohn & Robinson, Missoula, for Defendant and Appellant.

William P. Joyce, Burgess, Joyce, Starin & Whelan, Butte, for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

TRIEWEILER, Justice.

The plaintiffs, Tami and David Ruckdaschel, brought this action against the defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., in the District Court for the Second Judicial District in Silver Bow County to obtain coverage for medical payments pursuant to their policies with State Farm. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The District Court granted the Ruckdaschels' motion as it pertained to coverage issues, and held that genuine issues of material fact exist regarding other claims. State Farm appeals from the District Court's order. We affirm the judgment of the District Court.

The issue on appeal is:

Does State Farm's anti-stacking language in the medical payment portion of the Ruckdaschels' policy violate Montana public policy?

FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND DISCUSSION

This appeal initially involved two separate automobile accidents. The first occurred on April 27, 1994. In that accident, Tami Ruckdaschel was injured while riding as a passenger in her husband's 1993 Chevrolet truck when it was struck by a vehicle driven by Rod Timmer. She incurred medical expenses in the amount of $5,725.08 as a result of this accident. State Farm paid $5,000 toward those expenses. On appeal, Tami has moved this Court to dismiss her claim related to that accident, given the amount of money in controversy. Although State Farm objects to that motion, we grant Tami's motion to dismiss. Therefore, State Farm's appeal with regard to the issue of coverage for Tami's April 27, 1994, accident is moot. In State v. Murray (1979), 183 Mont. 499, 503, 600 P.2d 1174, 1176, we held that "[a] moot question is one which existed once but because of an event or happening, it has ceased to exist and no longer presents an actual controversy." This Court will not decide moot questions and therefore will not address State Farm's appeal regarding Tami's claim for medical payment benefits arising out of the April 27, 1997, accident. See Murray, 183 Mont. at 503, 600 P.2d at 1176.

The second accident occurred on October 16, 1994. In that accident, Tami was injured when struck as a pedestrian by a vehicle driven by Neil Gordon. She incurred medical expenses in excess of $15,000 as a result of those injuries.

Tami had three separate medical payment policies in effect with State Farm at the time of the accident. She paid a separate premium for each of those coverages. Each policy had a limit of $5,000 for medical payment coverage. However, State Farm refused to pay more than the single limit of $5,000. The District Court held that the coverages may be "stacked" and ordered State Farm to pay the additional $10,000.

Each of Tami's three policies in effect at the time of the October 16, 1994, accident contained the following coverage language:

We will pay medical expenses for bodily injury sustained by:

1. a. the first person named; and

b. his or her relatives.

These persons have to sustain the bodily injury:

a. while they operate or occupy a vehicle covered under the liability section; or

b. through being struck as a pedestrian by a motor vehicle or trailer.

(Underlining added.)

Although this language provides coverage pursuant to each of the three policies for the injuries Tami sustained in the October accident, State Farm added the following language in an amendatory endorsement to each policy:

2. Policies Issued by Us to You, Your Spouse or Relatives

If two ore [sic] more policies issued by us to you, your spouse or your relatives provide vehicle medical payments coverage and apply to the same bodily injury sustained;

a. while occupying a non-owned car, a temporary substitute car; or b. as a pedestrian

the total limits of liability under all such policies shall not exceed that of the policy with the highest limit of liability.

On appeal, State Farm contends that the District Court erred when it concluded that our decision in Bennett v. State Farm Is. Co. (1993), 261 Mont. 386, 862 P.2d 1146, allowed stacking of medical payment coverage in spite of the cited language. It contends that because medical payment coverage is not required by law, the rationale from Bennett is inapplicable. It further contends that because other jurisdictions have upheld similar or identical language with regard to medical payment coverage, the District Court erred when it chose to follow our decision in Bennett. The Ruckdaschels contend, on the other hand, that our decision in Bennett controls the outcome of this case and that the District Court was correct to follow that decision.

Our standard of review in appeals from summary judgment rulings is de novo. See Motarie v. Northern Montana Joint Refuse Disposal Dist. (1995), 274 Mont. 239, 242, 907 P.2d 154, 156; Mead v. M.S.B., Inc. (1994), 264 Mont. 465, 470, 872 P.2d 782, 785. When we review a summary judgment, we apply the same criteria as the district court based on Rule 56, M.R.Civ.P. See Bruner v. Yellowstone County (1995), 272 Mont. 261, 264, 900 P.2d 901, 903.

The essential question presented by this appeal is whether State Farm may rely on the language of its amendatory endorsement to deny coverage under each policy when it received a separate premium for each policy. In Bennett, we addressed a nearly identical question. The only difference between the facts of this case and the facts of Bennett is that Bennett involved underinsurance coverage and this case involves medical payment coverage. All other facts are identical: Bennett dealt with a pedestrian/automobile accident as does this case; Bennett involved a plaintiff who had purchased multiple insurance policies with identical coverages, just as the Ruckdaschels had done in this case; in Bennett, as in this case, the insurance company charged and was paid a separate premium for each policy; and, finally, in Bennett, as in this case, State Farm sought to prohibit...

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