Weingarten v. Allstate Ins. Co.

Decision Date16 September 1975
Citation169 Conn. 502,363 A.2d 1055
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesPeggy WEINGARTEN v. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY.

Sidney Axelrod, Groton, for appellant (plaintiff).

James T. Haviland II, Groton, for appellee (defendant).

Before HOUSE, C.J., and LOISELLE, MacDONALD, BOGDANSKI and LONGO, JJ.

HOUSE, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court denying the plaintiff's application for an order directing the defendant to proceed with arbitration of her claim against an unidentified motor vehicle operator. The facts, which are not the subject of dispute, are as follows: On December 4, 1968, the plaintiff was operating her husband's insured automobile on route 12, a public highway in Ledyard. While operating this automobile northerly on 12, an unidentified automobile proceeding northerly directly in front of the plaintiff suddenly and without warning came to a halt. As a result of the stopping of the unidentified vehicle in front of her, the plaintiff skidded into the southbound lane and collided with another automobile operated by Stephen P. Cormier in a southerly direction on route 12. The collision with the Cormier vehicle resulted in bodily injuries to the plaintiff.

The plaintiff has been unable to determine the name of the operator or owner of the vehicle which stopped suddenly in front of her and she has no knowledge of any available or applicable insurance on that vehicle.

On the date of the accident, there was in effect an automobile insurance policy with 'uninsured motorist coverage' issued by the defendant to Morris P. Weingarten, the husband of the pliantiff. As the wife of the named insured living in his household the plaintiff was an insured person covered by the policy. The policy contained a written agreement for arbitration. The plaintiff made a claim against the defendant under the uninsured motorist protection provisions of the policy and made demand that the defendant arbitrate her claim. The defendant refused to submit to arbitration the plaintiff's claim against the unknown operator on the basis that the occurrence in question was not covered by the applicable provisions of the uninsured motorist provisions of the insurance contract.

On the basis of the foregoing facts, the court reached the following conclusions to which the plaintiff has assigned error: coverage for a hit-and-run motorist was not included within the coverage afforded under the uninsured motorist clause of the policy in question; the insurance policy in question complied with the applicable provisions of statute and regulation for minimum coverage as to uninsured motorists. The court also overruled the plaintiff's claims of law that (1) under the provisions of § 38-175c of the General Statutes and administrative regulations supplementary thereto; Rigs.Conn.State Agencies § 38-175a-6; a no-contact accident with an unidentified automobile should be included within the minimum limits of uninsured motorists coverage of an automobile liability policy; and (2) since the uninsured motorist clause did not exclude coverage for a no-contact accident with an unidentified vehicle, such coverage was included. Conclusions are not erroneous unless they violate law, logic or reason or are inconsistent with the subordinate facts. The court's conclusions are to be tested by the findings and not the evidence. Hames v. Hames, 163 Conn. 588, 592, 316 A.2d 379; Hutensky v. Avon, 163 Conn. 433, 437, 311 A.2d 92. Conclusions logically supported by the finding must stand. Freccia v. Martin, 163 Conn. 160, 162, 302 A.2d 280.

At the time of the accident in question, the controlling statutes were those adopted by 1967 Public Acts, No. 510, which was in part incorporated into the General Statutes as §§ 38-175a through 38-175d, the relevant portions of which are copied in footnote 1 1. The administrative regulation adopted by the insurance commissioner is § 38-175a-6(a) entitled 'Minimum Provision for Protection against Uninsured Motorists,' and provided: 'The insurer shall undertake to pay on behalf of the insured all sums which the insured shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured automobile because of bodily injury sustained by the insured caused by an accident involving the uninsured automobile. This coverage shall insure the occupants of every automobile to which the bodily injury liability coverage applies. 'Uninsured automobile' includes an automobile insured against liability by an insurer that is or becomes insolvent.'

The insurance policy in effect at the time of the accident provided: 'Allstate will pay all sums which the insured shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an uninsured automobile because of bodily injury, sustained by the insured, caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use or such automobile.' The policy also included the following definitions: "(U)ninsured automobile' means an automobile: 1. with respect to the ownership, maintenance or use of which there is no bodily injury liability insurance applicable at the time of accident; or 2. used without the permission of the owner thereof if there is no bodily injury liability insurance applicable at the time of the accident with respect to the operator thereof; provided, however, an uninsured automobile shall not include: 1. an automobile owned by the named insured or any resident of his household, or self insured within the meaning of the safety responsibility law of the State or Province in which it is registered, or which is owned either by the United States, Canada, any political subdivision thereof or any agency of any of them; 2. a land motor vehicle or trailer operated on rails or crawler treads; 3. a farm-type tractor or equipment designed for use principally off public roads except while actually upon public roads; or 4. a land motor vehicle or trailer while located for use as a residence or premises and not as a vehicle.'

We conclude that the trial court correctly held that the requirements of the statute and regulations were met by the defendant's policy in effect at the time of the accident and that the uninsured motorist coverage of the policy does not include coverage in the present situation where the accident was caused by an unidentified motorist and it is impossible to ascertain whether or not that motorist was insured.

The statute and regulations do not define 'uninsured motorist' or in any way refer to what are commonly called hit-and-run operators. They merely require that every policy contain 'uninsured motorist coverage.' "(C)ourts cannot read into the terms of a statute something which manifestly is not there in order to reach what the court thinks would be a just result.' State v. Malm, 143 Conn. 462, 467, 123 A.2d 276. Much less does the plaintiff's unfortunate circumstance justify this court's disregarding the legislative mandate that words used in statutes 'shall be construed according to the commonly approved usage of the language.' General Statutes § 1-1. A due regard for the differing functions of the legislative and judicial branches of government requires that the courts refrain from rewriting, under the pretext of interpretation, the clearly expressed language of a legislative enactment which the court deems to be preferable to that which the legislation requires. 'In the field of legislation, the legislature is supreme. Courts must apply legislative enactments according to their plain terms.' State v. Malm, supra.' Simonette v. Great American Ins. Co., 165 Conn. 466, 471, 338 A.2d 453, 455. An 'uninsured motorist' clearly is not the same as an 'unidentified motorist' and '(a) court will not torture words to import ambiguity where the ordinary meaning leaves no room for ambiguity, and words do not become ambiguous simply because lawyers or laymen contend for different meanings.' Marcolini v. Allstate Ins. Co., 160 Conn. 280, 284, 278 A.2d 796, 799. In the same context of uninsured motorist coverage we refused to interpret that term in the statute and regulations as meaning an underinsured motorist; Simonette v. Great American Ins. Co., supra; Marcolini v. Allstate Ins. Co., supra; or the word 'automobile' as including a motorcycle.

The plaintiff's policy contained the coverage required by the statute and regulations and defined an uninsured automobile as already indicated. It is to be noted that unlike the express provisions of the policy discussed in Frager v. Pennsylvania General Ins. Co., 155 Conn. 270, 272, 231 A.2d 531, and many cases noted in Later Case Service, supplementing the note in 79 A.L.R.2d 1252, the plaintiff's policy did not make any provisions, even of a limited nature, for the circumstances of a hit-and-run accident. The plaintiff contends that the phrase in the policy 'no bodily injury liability insurance applicable at the time of accident' covers the unidentified motorist situation. Further, the plaintiff argues that this phrase creates an ambiguity in the meaning of the terms used in the insurance policy which must be resolved in favor of the insured. An identical argument was raised in the case of Lenngren v. Travelers Indemnity Co., 26 Misc.2d 1084, 203 N.Y.S.2d 136, aff'd, 20 App.Div.2d 850, 249 N.Y.S.2d 400. In that case the court responded by saying: 'The difficulty with the plaintiff's position is that it presupposes an ambiguity that requires construction. I find none. I find that the policy does not, in express terms, include a hit and run automobile in its definition of an uninsured automobile, and no intent to do so can be read into the policy by any reasonable interpretation of the language used. Nor is there any basis for the assumption that the policy was intended to include hit and run automobiles in addition to uninsured automobiles . . .. To attempt to read any such coverage into the policy would be to torture and twist the...

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