FROM THE PHILLIPS COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 54CV-17-36],
HONORABLE RICHARD L. PROCTOR, JUDGE
Law PLLC, by: Kyle Stoner; and David Hodges, for appellants.
Matthews, Sanders & Sayes, P.A., by: Mel Sayes, for appellee.
F. WYNNE, Associate Justice
Crockett and Macon Carter appeal from an order of the
Phillips County Circuit Court granting summary judgment in
favor of Shelter Mutual Insurance Company (Shelter) on their
claim arising from medical expenses they incurred following
an automobile accident. On appeal, appellants contend that
the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in favor
of Shelter because the policy language is ambiguous or,
alternatively, the policy language is against public policy
and should be declared void. Appellants also ask this court
to reverse the denial of their motion in limine seeking to
exclude evidence of their health insurance or bill reductions
by medical providers. We affirm.
February 12, 2016, appellants were passengers in a 2014
Nissan Versa that was owned by Johnny Carter and being driven
by Frank Ross. The vehicle was involved in an accident.
Carter had taken out a policy of insurance on the vehicle
with Shelter. The policy contained a provision providing
medical-expense benefits of up to $5000 per person. Neither
Crockett nor Carter had automobile medical-payment coverage.
On March 2, 2017, appellants filed suit against Shelter,
contending that they were entitled to medical benefits under
Carters policy with Shelter and that Shelter had
"failed, refused and neglected in bad faith" to
make payments in violation of Arkansas Code Annotated section
23-89-202. Crockett alleged that he had incurred medical
expenses in the amount of $4,165.80, and that Shelter had
paid only $2,706.68 and refused to pay the balance. Carter
alleged that he had incurred medical expenses in the amount
of $10,443.47, that Shelter had only paid $915 in benefits,
and that Shelter refused to pay the balance up to the policy
limit of $5000. In addition to payment of their medical
expenses, appellants sought a statutory penalty, fees, and
Shelter answered the complaint and subsequently filed a
motion for summary judgment. In the motion, Shelter contended
that appellants medical providers had been paid at a reduced
rate that satisfied appellants medical expenses in full.
Appellants opposed the motion for summary judgment and filed
a cross-motion for partial summary judgment. They contended
that they were entitled to additional funds under the
policys medical-benefits provision because the language of
the policy was ambiguous, and that the policy language was
void as contrary to public policy. Appellants also filed a
motion in limine seeking to prevent Shelter from making any
references at trial to payments it had made.
trial court held a hearing on the parties various pretrial
motions. On March 7, 2018, the trial court entered an order
denying appellants motion for partial summary judgment and
motion in limine and granting Shelters motion for summary
judgment. This appeal followed.
law is well settled regarding the standard of review used by
this court in reviewing a grant of summary judgment.
Muccio v. Hunt, 2016 Ark. 178, 490 S.W.3d 310. A
trial court will grant summary judgment only when it is
apparent that no genuine issues of material fact exist
requiring litigation and that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a
matter of law. Id. The burden of proof shifts to the
opposing party once the moving party establishes a prima
facie entitlement to summary judgment; the opposing party
must demonstrate the existence of a material issue of fact.
Id. After reviewing the evidence, the trial court
should deny summary judgment if, under the evidence,
reasonable minds could reach different conclusions from the
same undisputed facts. Id.
Appellants argue that the trial court erred by granting
summary judgment in favor of Shelter because the applicable
policy language is ambiguous. Language is ambiguous if there
is doubt or uncertainty as to its meaning and it is
susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation.
Smith v. Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 340 Ark.
335, 10 S.W.3d 846 (2000). Ordinarily, the question of
whether the language of an insurance policy is ambiguous is
one of law to be resolved by the court. Western World
Ins. Co. Inc. v. Branch, 332 Ark. 427, 965 S.W.2d 760.
When a contract is unambiguous, its construction is a
question of law for this court. Id. ; Unigard
Sec. Ins. Co. v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 331 Ark. 211, 962
S.W.2d 735 (1998). When contracting parties express their
intention in a written instrument in clear and unambiguous
language, it is the courts duty to construe the writing in
accordance with the plain meaning of the language employed.
Green v. Ferguson, 263 Ark. 601, 567 S.W.2d 89
II, Coverage C of the insurance policy states
"we will pay the reasonable
charges for necessary goods and
services for the treatment of bodily
injury sustained by an
insured." (emphasis original). The