Young v. Allstate Ins. Co.

Decision Date03 March 1998
Docket NumberNo. 1070,S,1070
Citation706 A.2d 650,120 Md.App. 216
PartiesJimmy YOUNG v. ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY. ept. Term., 1997.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

Craig A. Rosenstein (Rensin & Rosenstein, L.L.P., on the brief), Hyattsville, for appellant.

John A. Moody, College Park, for appellee.

Argued before DAVIS and KENNEY, JJ., and KATHLEEN SWEENEY, Judge (Specially Assigned).

DAVIS, Judge.

Jimmy Young appeals the decision of the Circuit Court for Prince George's County granting summary judgment in favor of appellee Allstate Insurance Company, thereby denying uninsured motorist coverage to appellant. This case began when appellant, as plaintiff below, filed a motor tort claim against three defendants: (1) appellee--appellant's auto insurance carrier, (2) Antonio Milano--the uninsured driver of the vehicle that struck appellant, and (3) Fabrico Caro 1--the owner of the vehicle that struck appellant. After some discovery, appellant agreed to release Fabrico Caro from the case on summary judgment because Caro was out of the country at the time of the accident and had not given permission to Antonio Milano to operate the vehicle that initiated the accident. Process was served on Milano outside of the United States; however, he never filed an answer to the complaint.

On December 13, 1996, appellee filed a Motion for Summary Judgment claiming that appellant was not covered under the policy's uninsured motorist provisions because he (appellant) was using a truck provided by his employer for his "regular use" when the accident occurred. The policy excluded from the definition of "insured auto[s]" vehicles not owned by appellant that were provided for his "regular use." Appellant filed a response to appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment on December 24, 1996. The court granted appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment on May 7, 1997 without a hearing. 2 Appellant filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the court denied on May 30, 1997. Appellant noted this timely appeal on May 29, 1997, in which he raises one question for our review, reframed below:

Did the circuit court err when it granted appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment?

We answer the question in the affirmative and reverse the judgment of the circuit court.

FACTS

On July 18, 1995, appellant, who worked for the District of Columbia public school system, was operating a District of Columbia vehicle when he decided to go to lunch at approximately 11:45 a.m. The vehicle was a large step van or truck provided by the District of Columbia for appellant's regular use in servicing the District's public schools. Appellant parked the vehicle facing northbound on 18th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., parallel to the curb. He turned off the ignition, exited the truck, and went to the rear of the vehicle to check the padlock on the back doors. His intent was to enter a nearby McDonald's restaurant that was adjacent to the sidewalk on the side of the street where he had parked.

Appellant was standing approximately ten inches from the rear bumper of the parked truck, still facing the closed rear doors, when he noticed a car coming from the opposite direction (southbound) on 18th Street, N.W. The southbound vehicle, driven by Antonio Milano, made a sudden U-turn, coming close to appellant's truck as it veered around. As the vehicle turned, it made a squealing noise that drew appellant's attention, causing him to turn around and turn his head to his right. After virtually completing the U-turn, Milano backed the vehicle he was driving into appellant's right knee. Despite the impact, appellant was not pushed into anything and he did not fall. He did, however, grab his knee and sit down on the rear bumper of the parked truck. Milano brought his vehicle to a stop, rolled down his window, extended an apology to appellant, and then fled the scene.

As stated above, appellant sued appellee for the uninsured motorist coverage provided for in appellee's insurance policy with appellant, but the lower court granted appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION
Standard of Review

Motions for summary judgment are governed by MARYLAND RULE 2-501, which provides that, "[t]he court shall enter judgment in favor of or against the moving party if the motion and response show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the party in whose favor judgment is entered is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." MARYLAND RULE 2-501(e) (1998). See also Bagwell v. Peninsula Regional Medical Ctr., 106 Md.App. 470, 488, 665 A.2d 297 (1995), cert. denied, 341 Md. 172, 669 A.2d 1360 (1996) (holding trial court to same requirements as MD. RULE 2-501). In making its determination, the circuit court must view the facts and all inferences from those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Brown v. Wheeler, 109 Md.App. 710, 717, 675 A.2d 1032 (1996). Even when there is a dispute as to the facts, if resolution of that factual dispute is not material to the controversy, such dispute does not prevent the entry of summary judgment. Lynx, Inc. v. Ordnance Products, Inc., 273 Md. 1, 8, 327 A.2d 502 (1974). A material fact is one that will affect the outcome of the case. Id.

When there are no factual disputes, the trial court must interpret insurance policies using the ordinary and accepted meanings of the words set out in the policy. Cheney v. Bell Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 315 Md. 761, 766, 556 A.2d 1135 (1989).

The standard for appellate review of a trial court's granting or denying a motion for summary judgment requires us to determine whether the trial court was legally correct. Heat & Power Corp. v. Air Prods. & Chems., Inc., 320 Md. 584, 590-92, 578 A.2d 1202 (1990); Barnett v. Sara Lee Corp., 97 Md.App. 140, 146, 627 A.2d 86, cert. denied, 332 Md. 702, 632 A.2d 1207 (1993). In so doing, we review the same material from the record and decide the same legal issues as the circuit court. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Scherr, 101 Md.App. 690, 695, 647 A.2d 1297 (1994), cert. denied, Scherr v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co., 337 Md. 214, 652 A.2d 670 (1995).

I

Appellant claims that there was a dispute as to material fact below and that the lower court misconstrued the applicable uninsured motorist law. Specifically, appellant alleges that the lower court erred when it granted appellee's Motion for Summary Judgment based on a finding that he was "in, on, getting into, or getting out of" a vehicle provided for his "regular use," as opposed to finding that he was a pedestrian at the time of the accident.

Appellee counters that the insurance policy in question excludes vehicles not owned by appellant that are provided for his "regular use" from the definition of "insured auto" as used in the policy's uninsured motorist endorsement. Consequently, appellee asserts that appellant is excluded from claiming uninsured motorist protection while "in, on, getting into, or getting out of" the step van that his employer had provided for his "regular use."

We shall reverse the decision of the lower court, as we are persuaded that the lower court misconstrued the insurance contract and uninsured motorist law, although not necessarily for the reasons stated by appellant. Based on our review of the pleadings that were before the lower court, we find no dispute as to material fact, but hold that the trial court's determination was legally incorrect. We begin our explanation with a synopsis of the relevant uninsured motorist law.

The primary purpose of uninsured motorist insurance "is to assure financial compensation to the innocent victims of motor vehicle accidents who are unable to recover from financially irresponsible uninsured motorists." Pennsylvania Nat'l Mut. Cas. Ins. Co. v. Gartelman, 288 Md. 151, 157, 416 A.2d 734 (1980); see also Nationwide Mut. Ins. Co. v. Webb, 291 Md. 721, 737, 436 A.2d 465 (1981) (stating that the purpose of uninsured motorist statutes is to ensure "that each insured under such coverage have available the full statutory minimum to exactly the same extent as would have been available had the tort[-]feasor complied with the minimum requirements of the financial responsibility law.") (quoting Webb v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 479 S.W.2d 148, 152 (Mo.App.1972)).

The uninsured motorist statute is remedial in nature, and therefore, should be construed liberally. See Gartelman, 288 Md. at 160, 416 A.2d 734. Indeed, the remedial nature of the uninsured motorist statute has led "[t]he courts ... to favor the interests of the insureds to a greater degree than was previously true in regard to any other insurance coverage." 1 ALAN I. WIDISS, UNINSURED AND UNDERINSURED MOTORIST INSURANCE § 3.6 (2d ed.1987).

Maryland's uninsured motorist statute requires that every insurance policy contain coverage for damages that "[t]he insured is entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident arising out of ownership, maintenance or use of such uninsured motor vehicle." MD.CODE (1997 Repl.Vol.) INSURANCE (INS.), § 19-509(c)(1).

The uninsured motorist endorsement of the insurance policy in the instant case provides, in relevant part, under the section entitled "Part 5 Uninsured Motorist Insurance Coverage SS":

We will pay damages for bodily injury, sickness, disease or death, or property damage which an insured person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured auto. Injury must be caused by accident and arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an uninsured auto.

...

Insured Persons

1. You and any resident relative.[ 3

2. Any person while in, on, getting into or out of an insured auto with your permission.

3. Any other person who is legally entitled to recover because of bodily injury to you, a resident relative, or an occupant of your insured auto with your permission.

An insured auto is a motor...

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