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Williams v. Allstate Property & Casualty Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division III

January 25, 2017



          Ogles Law Firm, P.A., by: John Ogles, for appellants.

          Barber Law Firm PLLC, by: J. Cotten Cunningham and M. Evan Stallings, for appellee.

          WAYMOND M. BROWN, Judge

         Appellants Carl and Bonnetta Williams appeal the April 22, 2016 order of the Desha County Circuit Court granting summary judgment in favor of appellee Allstate. Appellants argue that the court erred in granting summary judgment because there were genuine issues of material fact still remaining. We find no error and affirm.

         The facts necessary to understand the instant case are as follows. Carl Williams was driving his vehicle in a northerly direction on U.S. Highway 65 in Mitchellville, Arkansas, on June 28, 2012, when a vehicle owned and driven by Lewis Edward Phoenix pulled beside Carl, and Laron Marco Gray shot Carl twice in the left side pelvic area. Phoenix and Gray fled the scene, and Carl drove himself to the hospital. As a result of the shooting, Carl incurred medical expenses and damages to his vehicle. Appellants filed a complaint against Phoenix and Gray on June 20, 2014, seeking compensatory, punitive, and other damages.[1]Appellants filed a motion for default judgment against Phoenix and Gray on October 23, 2014.[2] Appellants filed an amended complaint on January 7, 2015, naming appellee as a defendant. In the amended complaint, appellants alleged that they had uninsured motorist insurance (UM) with appellee at the time of the shooting and that Carl had made a demand for payment under the UM section of the policy. However, Carl contended that Allstate failed and refused to pay anything in breach of its contractual obligation as per the policy. Thus, appellants sought to be awarded judgment against appellee for policy limits of the UM as well as statutory reasonable attorney's fee and interest. Allstate filed an answer to the complaint on January 26, 2015, essentially denying the material allegations in appellants' complaint. It put forth several affirmative defenses and asked that appellants' complaint against it be dismissed.

         Allstate filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment on June 3, 2015, asking the court to declare that the UM coverage did not extend to the incident complained of by appellants. It included a copy of the policy in question. Appellants filed an answer to Allstate's counterclaim on July 29, 2015, denying the material allegations and asking the court to deny Allstate declaratory judgment and to declare that the policy covered the injuries and damages complained of. Allstate filed an amended counterclaim on September 8, 2015, asking that the court declare that the hospital and medical benefits as well as the UM coverage under the policy did not cover the June 28, 2012 incident. Appellants filed an answer on September 17, 2015, again, denying the material allegations and asking the court to find that the injuries and damages were covered by the policy.

         Allstate filed a motion for summary judgment and supporting brief on February 10, 2016, alleging that there were no genuine issues of material fact in this case and that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law. According to Allstate, appellants' claimed bodily injuries and property damage were the result of an intentional shooting of Carl by Gray and Phoenix, and an intentional shooting did not constitute an "accident" as found in appellants' policy with Allstate. It also denied that Carl's damages arose "from the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle" or "out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an uninsured auto" as required by the policy. Additionally, Allstate contended that there was no causal relationship or connection between Carl's claimed bodily injuries and property damage and the use of a motor vehicle. Appellants filed a response and accompanying brief on March 7, 2016, [3]contending that since Carl was shot while using his vehicle by someone in another vehicle in use, the injuries and property damages sustained were caused by the respective use of the autos and were directly related to such uses. Additionally, appellants argued that Carl was caught by surprise when he was shot, thus, making the shooting an "accident" from Carl's perspective. Allstate filed a response on March 18, 2016, arguing that appellants had failed to meet proof with proof and that Allstate's summary-judgment motion should be granted.

          The court entered a letter opinion on April 22, 2016, which it incorporated into the order granting summary judgment entered that same day. The court dismissed Allstate from the proceeding. The court included a Rule 54(b) certification so that appellants could appeal. This timely appeal followed.

         A trial court grants summary judgment when a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[4] An issue involving a question of law is reviewed de novo and is given no deference on appeal.[5] If the language of an insurance policy is unambiguous, we give effect to the policy's plain language without resorting to the rules of construction, but if the language is ambiguous, we construe the policy liberally in favor of the insured and strictly against the insurer.[6] Policy language is ambiguous if there is doubt or uncertainty as to its meaning and it is fairly susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.[7] Whether the language of the policy is ambiguous is a question of law to be resolved by the court.[8]

         Allstate's policy provides medical and hospital benefits coverage VC in Part II as follows:

We will pay to or on the behalf of an injured person all reasonable and necessary expenses incurred within 24 months after the date of the accident for medical treatment, products, and services actually rendered or furnished.
Ambulance, hospital, medical, dental, surgical, ... are covered. Treatment and services rendered in accordance with a recognized religious method of healing are also covered. Payments will be made only when bodily injury is caused by an accident arising from the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. Expenses for hospital room accommodations are limited to semiprivate room rates.

         An injured person is defined under the policy as "you or a resident relative who sustains bodily injury, sickness, disease, or death arising out of the use of a motor vehicle." The ...

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