Voris v. Middlesex Mut. Assurance Co., No. 18281.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Citation297 Conn. 589,999 A.2d 741
Decision Date27 July 2010
Docket NumberNo. 18281.

297 Conn. 589
999 A.2d 741

John G. VORIS et al.

No. 18281.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued Feb. 23, 2010.
Decided July 27, 2010.

999 A.2d 742


999 A.2d 743
Paul L. Bollo, Danbury, for the appellants (plaintiffs).

Jon Berk, with whom was Russell Jarem, Hartford, for the appellees (defendants).



The plaintiffs, John G. Voris and Joan Voris, appeal 1 from the summary judgment rendered by the trial court in favor of the defendants, Middlesex Mutual Assurance Company (Middlesex) and Middle Oak Company (Middle Oak), in the plaintiffs' action seeking a declaration requiring the defendants to provide the plaintiffs with underinsured motorist benefits. This case presents three issues on appeal, specifically, whether the trial court properly: (1) determined that the plaintiffs' action was barred by the contractual limitation provision contained in the insurance policy issued to them by the defendants; (2) determined that there were no genuine issues of material fact that precluded granting the defendants' motion for summary judgment; and (3) determined that General Statutes § 38a-336(g)(1), 2 which prescribes a minimum time limitation, consistent with the policy at issue, that underinsured motorist insurers may set for an insured to initiate a claim, does not constitute an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. We conclude that the trial

999 A.2d 744
court acted properly, and accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The plaintiffs held an automobile insurance policy issued by Middlesex through Middle Oak, which provided them with underinsured motorist coverage. The policy included a provision that required any actions against the defendants to be brought within three years of the date of the accident, but which also permitted a claim for underinsured motorist benefits to be brought at a later date as long as written notice of intent to bring such a claim was filed within that three year period.3

On May 10, 2004, the plaintiffs were involved in an automobile accident with Peter Molinaro and commenced a legal action against him on May 1, 2006. 4 By telephone on May 11, 2004, John Voris notified Middlesex of the prior day's accident. On June 22, 2007, the plaintiffs provided written notice to the defendants that they intended to seek benefits under their underinsured motorist coverage for injuries sustained as a result of their accident with Molinaro.

On August 22, 2007, Middlesex notified the plaintiffs that their claim for underinsured motorist benefits was untimely, and would therefore be denied. Following that notice, the plaintiffs commenced this action against the defendants, seeking a declaratory judgment obligating them to pay benefits under the plaintiffs' underinsured motorist coverage. The defendants thereafter moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiffs' claim for benefits was time barred. The plaintiffs then moved to amend their complaint, additionally seeking a declaratory judgment that § 38a-336(g)(1) violated either the United States constitution or the constitution of Connecticut because it delegated legislative authority to insurers. 5 They also objected to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, claiming, inter alia, that genuine issues of material fact existed, and that § 38a-336(g)(1) constitutes an invalid delegation of legislative power. In support of their opposition to the defendants' motion, the plaintiffs submitted an affidavit from John Voris wherein he attested to the events underlying the amended complaint and further claimed that, in the course of his May 11, 2004 telephone call to Middlesex, he was “led to believe that this notice constituted the correct notification procedure under [his] policy and preserved all of [his] rights under [his] policy including a claim for underinsured motorist benefits.” The trial court granted the plaintiffs' motion to amend the

999 A.2d 745
complaint and thereafter the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, concluding that the policy's notice restriction provision provided an absolute bar to the plaintiffs' recovery, that no genuine issues of material fact existed, and that § 38a-336(g)(1) was constitutional. This appeal followed.

The plaintiffs first claim that the trial court improperly concluded that, as a matter of law, the plaintiffs' admittedly late written notice to the defendants of their intent to claim underinsured motorist benefits constituted an absolute bar to recovery of such benefits. Specifically, the plaintiffs contend that the court should not have strictly construed the time limitation and instead should have applied the principle recognized in Aetna Casualty & Surety Co. v. Murphy, 206 Conn. 409, 418-19, 538 A.2d 219 (1988), that strict compliance with contract notice terms may be excused in order to avoid a forfeiture, as long as there is no prejudice to the insurer. They contend that this principle should control in the present case because the policy is a contract of adhesion and because § 38a-336, which mandates the provision of underinsured benefits, is a remedial statute. We disagree.

Before addressing the merits of this claim, we must address the appropriate standard for this court's review. “On appeal, we must determine whether the legal conclusions reached by the trial court are legally and logically correct and whether they find support in the facts set out in the memorandum of decision of the trial court.... Our review of the trial court's decision to grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment is plenary.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Bellemare v. Wachovia Mortgage Corp., 284 Conn. 193, 199, 931 A.2d 916 (2007).

“We begin our analysis with the general principles governing the construction of insurance policies. An insurance policy is to be interpreted by the same general rules that govern the construction of any written contract and enforced in accordance with the real intent of the parties as expressed in the language employed in the policy.... The policy words must be accorded their natural and ordinary meaning.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Enviro Express, Inc. v. AIU Ins. Co., 279 Conn. 194, 199, 901 A.2d 666 (2006). Although “[s]tandardized contracts of insurance continue to be prime examples of contracts of adhesion”; (internal quotation marks omitted) Rumbin v. Utica Mutual Ins. Co., 254 Conn. 259, 264 n. 6, 757 A.2d 526 (2000); that factor would bear on our construction of the provision at issue only if the insurance contract were ambiguous. See Parrot v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 273 Conn. 12, 23 n. 11, 866 A.2d 1273 (2005). There is, however, no ambiguity in the time limit provision at issue in the present case. The trial court therefore correctly concluded that, as a general matter, the plaintiffs are “bound by the terms of the policy [they] accepted and under which [they] paid premiums,” regardless of whether the policy is a contract of adhesion. We therefore turn to the plaintiffs' contention that, despite the concededly late written notice of their intent to seek underinsured motorist benefits, they were nevertheless entitled to continue to seek those benefits.

This court has considered instances of such late action on several prior occasions. In McGlinchey v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., 224 Conn. 133, 617 A.2d 445 (1992), this court had rejected a claim that it violated public policy to enforce a two year time limit in an underinsured motorist policy to bar the plaintiff's claim. The court relied on the facts that the insurance policy conformed to the time limit permitted

999 A.2d 746
by the statute that then governed underinsured motorist policies; see General Statutes (Rev. to 1987) § 38-27 (precluding insurers from establishing time limit of less than two years for bringing underinsured and uninsured motorist claims), now codified at General Statutes 38a-290; and that this provision “demonstrates that the legislature recognized that insurance carriers were free to contract for a period of limitation of no less than two years.” McGlinchey v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., supra, at 140-41, 617 A.2d 445. This court also noted our historic refusal to accept good faith deviations from statutory time limits on underinsured motorist recovery, and concluded that there was “no reason why contractual conditions on underinsured motorist insurance are not equally enforceable.” Id., at 140, 617 A.2d 445. In Serrano v. Aetna Ins. Co., 233 Conn. 437, 664 A.2d 279 (1995), which dealt with constitutional challenges to the retroactive application of the public act that had extended the statutory minimum period for claims on underinsured motorist policies from two years to three; see Public Acts 1993, No. 93-77, § 2; this court characterized our previous case law as setting forth the proposition that an insurer is “entitled to enforce an unambiguous policy provision requiring an insured to file an action for underinsured motorist benefits within [a certain time period] from the date of the accident.” Id., at 443 n. 7, 664 A.2d 279 (citing decisions in McGlinchey v. Aetna Casualty & Surety Co., supra, at 133, 617 A.2d 445, and Hotkowski v. Aetna Life & Casualty Co., 224 Conn. 145, 617 A.2d 451 [1992] ); see Coelho v. ITT Hartford, 251 Conn. 106, 113, 752 A.2d 1063 (1999) (similarly characterizing this case law).

In Tracy v. Allstate Ins. Co., 268 Conn. 281, 283, 842 A.2d 1123 (2004), this court affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Court and adopted its reasoning in affirming the trial court's summary judgment rendered in favor of the defendant insurance company.6 See Tracy v. Allstate Ins. Co., 76 Conn.App. 329, 819 A.2d 859 (2003); see also Tracy v. Allstate Ins. Co., 70 Conn.App. 726, 799...

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