Wagenman v. State Farm Ins.

Decision Date18 December 1989
Docket NumberCiv. No. 87-C-1075W.
Citation726 F. Supp. 1239
PartiesJohn WAGENMAN, Plaintiff, v. STATE FARM INSURANCE, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Utah

D. David Lambert, Provo, Utah, for plaintiff.

Paul M. Belnap, Salt Lake City, Utah, for defendant.


WINDER, District Judge.

This matter is before the court on defendant's motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment. A hearing was held on these motions on July 11, 1989. Defendant, State Farm Insurance ("State Farm"), was represented by Paul M. Belnap. Plaintiff, John Wagenman, was represented by D. David Lambert. Prior to the hearing, the court had reviewed carefully the memoranda submitted by the parties. After taking the matter under advisement, the court has further considered the law and the facts and now renders the following memorandum decision and order.


On December 26, 1986, the plaintiff visited his stepfather and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Milgate at their home in Bloomington, Utah. Mr. Milgate requested plaintiff's assistance in replacing the rear-wheel shocks on his Dodge pick-up truck. Plaintiff alleges that as he pulled on the left rear shock, it suddenly came loose and he fell back onto the cement driveway. Plaintiff alleges he was injured and claims benefits from Mr. Milgate's State Farm no-fault insurance policy form 9844.1 ("Policy") which covers the pick-up truck. The parties dispute whether plaintiff is covered under the Policy. Both now move for summary judgment on this issue.

I. Standard of Review:

The standard for this court to rule on summary judgment motions is set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c). Summary judgment shall be granted when parties to a lawsuit do not dispute any material facts and judgment in favor of the moving party is appropriate as a matter of law. A moving party may demonstrate no material facts are disputed through "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits, if any, demonstrates ... there is no evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). Once the moving party has carried this burden, Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by ... affidavits or by the `depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Id. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553.1 The non-moving party must "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." Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

To be considered the evidence must be admissible under the evidentiary standard that would be applied at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2512, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). In considering a summary judgment motion, however, this court does not weigh the evidence but instead inquires whether "there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2510.2 To determine if sufficient evidence exists, "the inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts in the admissible record ... must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Matsushita Elec. Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed.2d 176 (1962)). Finally, any admissible facts asserted by the party opposing the motion that are not controverted must be regarded as true.

II. Contract:

The Policy is divided into unnumbered parts and numbered sections. The unnumbered parts; "defined words," "when and where coverage applies," "financed vehicles," "reporting a claim ...," "conditions," and "mutual conditions," apply to the entire policy. The rest of the Policy comprises numbered sections which outline coverage options that the insured may elect. Sections I, II, and III provide options for liability coverage for bodily injury and property damage or destruction including any related court costs.3 Section IV provides six options for accidental loss of, or physical damage to, the insured vehicle, certain equipment, clothes and luggage, and stored detachable living quarters. These include comprehensive, collision, emergency road service, and expenses incurred as a result of car repair. Finally, Section V covers death, dismemberment, and loss of sight. Each option is denoted by an alphabetic letter. Each policy declaration section lists the insured's choice of coverage options.

Definitions which apply to all coverage selections are listed at the beginning of the contract. Within each section are more specific definitions for terms used in that section. Similar terms are defined differently in the various sections. Likewise, each of the three sections covering insurance for bodily injury specifies in bold type the circumstances for which there shall be no coverage for bodily injury under that coverage type. The sections dealing with physical damage also contain bold-type coverage exceptions.

The Policy is not Ambiguous.

Plaintiff argues that the contract is ambiguous and thus under well-recognized insurance law principles, also adopted in Utah, it should be interpreted in favor of the insured. He asserts:

The concepts of "maintaining" a car and "occupying" a car are distinct and fundamentally different, despite theoretical overlap, and ... the policy in question provides no-fault coverage for both situations. At best the policy is ambiguous and provides coverage for maintenance related injuries; at the very least, the policy language which provides for no-fault coverage for maintenance related activity is in conflict with the "occupying" policy language and creates an ambiguity which must be resolved in favor of coverage.

Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support at 2. As the court will illustrate, however, court-developed occupancy tests incorporate appropriate standards for the maintenance situation. Moreover, rather than providing coverage for either a finding of maintenance or a finding of occupancy, case law requires both. The dual requirement ensures that, first, the maintenance or use requirement establishes a causal connection between the insured vehicle and the alleged injury and, second, the occupancy requirement establishes the necessary proximity to the insured vehicle such that a claimant should be afforded coverage.

The Policy also is not ambiguous with respect to the exclusions for persons working in a car business that appear in some sections but not in others. This exclusion first appears in Section I—Liability insurance and excludes bodily injury coverage when NON-OWNED CARS are "BEING REPAIRED, SERVICED OR USED BY ANY PERSON WHILE THAT PERSON IS WORKING IN ANY CAR BUSINESS." Later in this section coverage is also excluded for the insured vehicle while "BEING REPAIRED, SERVICED OR USED BY ANY PERSON EMPLOYED OR ENGAGED IN ANY WAY IN A CAR BUSINESS." A similar exclusion applies to all the physical damage options as well as to the situation when other coverage is available, and to death, dismemberment and loss of sight insurance. Policy at 14, 15. These exclusions do not appear in the other two "bodily injury" sections which provide for no-fault and uninsured motorist insurance.

Considering the policy behind no-fault and uninsured motorist statutes, the court is not surprised by the absence of this exclusion to these insurance plans. More significantly, though, the Policy contains several coverage options which an insured may select and upon which a premium is no doubt based. Each coverage selection scope is clarified by definitions and exceptions which apply to that particular option. Obviously this makes sense because each section or coverage option contemplates a different scope of insurance coverage. The Policy begins by specifying the definitions that are to be used throughout the Policy. Any variance in scope or coverage between the sections merely represents the differences between the coverage options. These Policy provisions are not ambiguous. Therefore, the specific definitions or exclusions within each section do not aid in the interpretation of the other sections.

A. Case Law

Because the Policy is not ambiguous, the issue before the court is whether plaintiff qualifies for no-fault insurance under the Policy. The Milsteads' Policy includes coverage P, no-fault coverage. Under this insurance option, the insurer promises that:

It will pay in accordance with the Utah Automobile No-Fault Insurance Act for bodily injury to an insured caused by accident resulting from the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle....
The definitions with this section define Insured4 to include any person other than the insured, insured spouse, or relative who is occupying the insured vehicle with the insured's permission.5 Because the parties dispute neither that the Policy covers the pick-up truck nor that plaintiff's involvement with the truck was with Mr. Milstead's permission, to collect insurance for his alleged injuries, plaintiff must establish 1) he sustained an injury arising out of the maintenance or use of the vehicle and 2) he was "occupying" the vehicle at the time of the injury.
1. Maintenance or Use

Courts generally interpret maintenance to include "any activity designed to preserve or repair a motor vehicle." 7 Am. Jur.2d Automobile Insurance § 134, 614 (1980).6 The attachment of a trailer hitch, a related activity that would seem to fall outside a strict interpretation of repair, also has been considered maintenance. Tubbs, 304 So.2d 589.

Although the line between use and maintenance is usually clear, some courts apply the "use" category when a...

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  • Nationwide Property and Cas. Ins. Co. v. McFarland
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    ...of a vehicle as a means of transportation, or some other purpose incident to transportation." See, e.g., Wagenman v. State Farm Ins., 726 F.Supp. 1239, 1242 (D.Utah 1989); Truck Ins. Exch. v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 13 Wash.App. 775, 538 P.2d 529, 533 The term "maintenance" has been desc......
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