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Suiter v. Allstate Insurance Co.

May 1, 2007

MARY SUITER PLAINTIFF
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garnett Thomas Eisele United States District Judge

ORDER

Before the Court is a motion in limine filed by Defendant Allstate Insurance Company ("Allstate"). Therein, Allstate seeks to limit the amount of underinsured motorist ("UIM") benefits available to Plaintiff Mary Suiter under her own policy to $50,000. Plaintiff Mary Suiter objects, contending that she is entitled to the full $100,000 in benefits specified in her policy. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that Allstate's motion must be granted. Accordingly, Plaintiff may not recover more than $50,000 under the terms of her UIM coverage with Allstate.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 16, 2003, Plaintiff Mary Suiter ("Suiter") was driving a 2002 Dodge Stratus owned by her daughter, Shawn Suiter, westbound on State Highway 14 in Jackson County, Arkansas, approximately four miles East of the Newport city limits. At the same time, Scott Atkins was driving a 1992 Toyota Celica in southbound on County Road 249. He ran a stop sign and collided with the vehicle driven by Suiter. It is undisputed that Mr. Atkins was intoxicated at the time of the collision. Allstate has also admitted that the subject collision was proximately caused by negligence on the part of Mr. Atkins.

Suiter alleges that she suffered serious and permanent injuries in the crash. Her injuries include the following: fractures of her distal radial bones in her right and left wrists; a fracture of the right kneecap (patella); a fractured left rib; and numerous abrasions, laceration and contusions, including bad bruising of her chest and stomach area. Suiter works as a medical technologist. She claims to have only about 55 to 65 % capacity in her right wrist and only about 25 to 30 % capacity in her left wrist.

Mr. Atkins' insurance carrier paid its $25,000.00 policy limit to Mary Suiter. Additionally, Suiter recovered the $50,000 underinsured motorist policy limit available under a separate Allstate policy covering the vehicle owned by Plaintiff's daughter, Shawn Suiter, and driven by Plaintiff Mary Suiter. Mary Suiter also has a separate policy with Allstate, which provides underinsured motorist coverage with limits of $100,000.00 per person, per accident. Plaintiff Suiter seeks in this lawsuit to recover the $100,000 in UIM benefits available under her policy with Allstate.

This case is scheduled for trial the week of May 7, 2007.*fn1

DISCUSSION

A legal dispute has arisen concerning the amount of UIM benefits available to Suiter under her Allstate policy. Allstate seeks to apply a credit of $50,000 against the $100,000 otherwise available to Suiter, thereby limiting the available UIM benefits to $50,000. Suiter claims that she is entitled to recover the entire $100,000 in UIM benefits specified under her policy.

Allstate's argument is based on the following policy language: If There is Other Insurance

If the insured person was in, on, getting into or out of a vehicle you do not own which is insured for this coverage under another policy, this coverage will be in excess. This means that when the insured person is legally entitled to recover damages in excess of the other policy limit, we will only pay the amount by which the limit of liability of this policy exceeds the limit of liability of that policy.

Arkansas' UIM statute is silent on the issue of whether UIM coverage can be reduced by other available UIM benefits. See Ark. Code Ann. § 23-89-209. Allstate contends that in the absence of any statutory prohibition on such reduction, it is entitled to the application of its policy language, pursuant to which the $50,000 in UIM benefits previously recovered under Plaintiff's daughter's policy will be applied to Plaintiff's UIM policy limits of $100,000, leaving only $50,000 in available benefits. Conversely, Plaintiff Suiter argues that she is entitled to the full benefit of her bargain and that she may recover the full limits of the $100,000 in UIM benefits specified under her policy.

Plaintiff does not dispute that the policy language, if applied, would require the requested setoff. Instead, Plaintiff contends that Arkansas' UIM statute and applicable case law, read together, "prohibit a UIM carrier from claiming a credit, offset, or reduction from collateral source payments as to the insured who actually purchased the policy." (Pl.'s resp. at p. 4). Plaintiff draws a distinction between the purchaser of UIM coverage and additional insureds who benefit from UIM coverage but do not have a direct contractual relationship with the insurer.

The parties dispute the significance of the decision in Shelter v. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Williams, 69 Ark. App. 35, 9 S.W.3d 545 (Ark. App. 2000). Defendant Allstate contends the decision is controlling here; Plaintiff Suiter contends the case is distinguishable based on the fact that the injured/deceased passenger did not purchase the policy in question, but rather was seeking to recover UIM damages under ...


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