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
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
Carter's 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
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
policy's 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 Shelter's
motion for summary judgment. This appeal followed.
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.
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
court's 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 (1978).
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
policy defines "reasonable charges" as the lesser
(a) The amount for which we can discharge
the insured's entire obligation to the
person providing the goods and services; or
(b) The charges incurred for goods and services that in
our judgment, are within the range of
charges for the same or similar goods and services, in the
geographic area where the services are rendered or the goods
(Emphasis original.) The policy defines "we" to
mean the Shelter Company providing the ...