Sanchez v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., No. 14-CV-0433 MCA/LAM

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
Writing for the CourtM. CHRISTINA ARMIJO Chief United States District Judge
Decision Date20 November 2015
Docket NumberNo. 14-CV-0433 MCA/LAM


No. 14-CV-0433 MCA/LAM


November 20, 2015


THIS MATTER is before the Court on Defendant State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed January 6, 2015. [Doc. 28]. Having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and otherwise being fully advised in the premises, the Court finds that the motion is well taken in part and will be granted in part.


Plaintiffs Theresa Sanchez ("Sanchez") and Destiny Lee ("Lee") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") allege that Defendant State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("State Farm") breached its contract of insurance, breached the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, acted in bad faith, violated the New Mexico Unfair Insurance Practices Act ("UIPA") and the New Mexico Unfair Practices Act ("UPA"), and committed the torts of negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and fraud. [Doc. 1 at 6-24]. The complaint arises from an automobile accident that occurred in New Mexico on December 22, 2013, when Plaintiffs, who are Tennessee

Page 2

residents, were visiting a relative who lived in New Mexico. At the time of the accident, Plaintiffs were insured by a State Farm policy issued in Tennessee. [Doc. 28-1 ¶ 3].

Sanchez attests in her affidavit that she was traveling in the left lane of a two-lane interstate when a tractor-trailer swerved into her lane, and collided with the front passenger side of her automobile. [Doc. 32-1 ¶ 8]. Sanchez attests that she "personally felt the impact of the tractor-trailer as it collided into the passenger side of [her] vehicle." [Id. ¶ 14]. The impact caused Sanchez to lose control of her vehicle, veer left approximately 90 degrees, and crash into a large concrete median. [Id. ¶ 8].

After the collision, Sanchez's vehicle came to rest, stalled across both lanes of the highway. [Id. ¶ 9]. Sanchez observed a semi-truck traveling towards their car and was worried that the truck would collide with their vehicle because Sanchez's car was black, the lights to the car were not operative, it was early morning and dark outside, and there was no overhead lighting in the area. [Id. ¶¶ 10-11]. Sanchez attempted to start and move her vehicle, but could not do so and therefore informed her daughter (Lee) that they must exit the vehicle to avoid being hit. [Id. ¶ 11]. Lee could not open the passenger-side door because it had sustained damage from the collision. [Id.]. Sanchez exited the vehicle and attempted by signal to notify the driver of the semi-truck of the presence of Plaintiffs and their vehicle. [Id.]. Lee escaped through the driver-side door as the semi-truck bypassed Sanchez's vehicle without hitting it. [Id.].

As a result of the collision, Sanchez's vehicle was heavily damaged and "totaled." [Id. ¶¶ 9, 12]. The driver of the tractor-trailer left the scene without exchanging identifying information and has never been identified. [Id. ¶ 12; Doc. 28-2 at 2, ¶ 7]. Besides the parties to the accident, there are no other known persons who witnessed the collision. [Doc. 28-2 at 2, ¶ 7; Doc. 32 at 10].

Page 3

The police arrived at the scene and conducted an investigation. [Doc. 32-1 ¶ 19]. Sanchez, who was "shaken up" and "in pain," gave a statement to the police. [Id.]. The police report indicates that Sanchez reported that the tractor-trailer "struck her vehicle on the passenger side door." [Doc. 32-1 at 12]. Sanchez asserts that because it was dark, she was not able "to fully assess the impact or damage" and that she was "acutely aware of the damage to the passenger side door since [her daughter] wasn't able to push it open." [Id. ¶ 15]. The anxiety Sanchez experienced from believing that the oncoming semi-truck would hit their stalled vehicle and that her daughter might die weighed heavily upon her. [Id.]. Sanchez attests that for these reasons she informed the police that the tractor-trailer hit her vehicle on the passenger-side door instead of the passenger-side front fender. [Id.].

Sanchez reported the accident to State Farm on the evening of the accident. [Doc. 28-2 at 1, ¶ 2]. Sanchez gave the agent "as many details as possible about the incident, including all of the information he requested. It was a complete description of the hit-and-run crash, including the impact by the tractor-trailer driver." [Doc. 32-1 ¶ 23]. Sanchez does not know whether the call was recorded. [Id.]. Sanchez made a property damage claim, which State Farm paid. [Doc. 28-2 at 1, ¶ 3]. Plaintiffs also made a claim for uninsured motorist benefits. [Id. at 1, ¶ 4].

Plaintiffs experienced worsening pain the next day, and they both went to the emergency room for examination and treatment. [Docs. 32-1 ¶ 24, 32-2 ¶ 11]. Plaintiffs provided statements to emergency room staff regarding the accident. [Docs. 32-1 ¶ 24, 32-2 ¶ 11]. Plaintiffs subsequently sought treatment from a chiropractor and provided statements regarding the accident to the chiropractor. [Docs. 32-1 ¶ 24, 32-2 ¶ 11]. Plaintiffs made their medical records from these visits available to State Farm. [Docs. 32-1 ¶ 24, 32-2 ¶ 11].

Sanchez's insurance agent, Andrew Felder, a Tennessee resident who interacted with

Page 4

Plaintiff from Tennessee, [Doc. 1 at 20-21], telephoned Sanchez on or around December 23, 2013, which was one day after the accident, [Doc. 32-1 ¶ 25]. Felder asked Sanchez "to detail the collision and crash for him"; Sanchez spoke "at length" with Felder and "again disclosed exactly what had happened, including all of the accident details." [Id.].

For the next week or slightly longer State Farm failed to take any action. [Id. ¶ 26]. Sanchez "kept calling" State Farm to ask when an adjuster would be inspecting her vehicle and preparing an estimate, but State Farm kept providing Sanchez with "excuses" and telling her that "nothing could be done because of the holiday." [Id.]. Felder intervened to facilitate an "expedited vehicle inspection" from State Farm's New Mexico claims staff, including an appraisal and repair estimate." [Id. ¶ 27].

A State Farm adjuster from the New Mexico office met Sanchez at her mother's house approximately one week after the crash. [Id. ¶ 28]. The adjuster conducted "another in-depth interview about the collision, and took quite a few pictures of [the] wrecked car." [Id.]. The interview was "an exhaustive chronology of the collision and crash, and lasted approximately 15 minutes." [Id.]. Sanchez told the adjuster "the entire story again." [Id.]. In total, Plaintiff spent 45 minutes with the adjuster, which included the time it took to conduct the interview, photograph and inspect the vehicle, and prepare a report. [Id.].

Nothing happened in the next few days, and Felder again had to intervene to "facilitate the New Mexico claims staff to coordinate the vehicle pick-up and liquidation, including the salvage valuation." [Id. ¶ 29 (emphasis in original)]. Felder also assisted Plaintiff as she negotiated with the New Mexico vehicle liquidator, State Farm, and Wells Fargo Bank "to get [Sanchez's] GAP coverage." [Id.]. Felder further facilitated the payment of Plaintiffs' property damage claim. [Id.].

Page 5

The State Farm policy includes the following requirement limiting uninsured motor vehicle coverage when an accident involves no physical contact between the insured vehicle and the uninsured motor vehicle: "If there is no physical contact between th[e] land motor vehicle [that is uninsured] and the insured or the vehicle the insured was occupying, then the existence of such [uninsured] land motor vehicle and the facts of the accident must be established by clear and convincing evidence other than evidence provided by the occupants of the vehicle occupied by the insured when the accident occurred." [Doc. 28-1 ¶ 4] (emphasis in original). The State Farm policy also includes a provision applicable to all coverages that requires the insured to cooperate with State Farm. This clause is titled "Insured's Duty to Cooperate with Us" and provides, "The insured must cooperate with us and, when asked, assist us in: (1) making settlements; (2) securing and giving evidence; and (3) attending, and getting witnesses to attend, depositions, hearings, and trials." [Id. ¶ 5] (emphasis in original). The policy further provides that insureds have a duty to submit to questioning under oath when making a claim: "each insured, or any other person . . . making claim or seeking payment[] . . . must, at our option, submit to an examination under oath, provide a statement under oath, or do both, as reasonably often as we require. Such person . . . must answer questions under oath, asked by anyone we name, and sign copies of the answers."2 [Id. ¶ 6] (emphasis in original).

On January 22, 2014, one month after the accident, State Farm requested a recorded statement from Plaintiffs. [Doc. 28-2 at 5]. In its letter making the request, State Farm's representative explicitly informed Plaintiffs' counsel that State Farm would need to secure the statement "as part of [its] investigation to determine if this claim qualifies for uninsured motorist

Page 6

coverage." [Id.]. In a separate reservation of rights letter sent that same day, State Farm alerted Plaintiffs that it may have no duty under the policy because, in its estimation, "[i]t is questionable whether the accident arose out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an Uninsured Motor Vehicle, as defined in the policy" and "[i]t is questionable whether the injury was caused by a hit-and-run motor vehicle, so as to qualify as an uninsured motor vehicle under the Uninsured Motor Vehicle Coverage." [Doc. 34-1]

State Farm sent three additional letters requesting the recorded statements on January 29, 2014, [28-2 at 6], February 4, 2014, [id. at 7], and February 25, 2014, [id. at 8].3 In the last letter, State Farm notified Plaintiffs' counsel that if it...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT