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Brethren Mutual Insurance Co. v. Triboski-Gray

July 10, 2008

THE BRETHREN MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, PLAINTIFF
v.
ANNE TRIBOSKI-GRAY, DEFENDANT



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas I. Vanaskie United States District Judge

(JUDGE VANASKIE)

MEMORANDUM

At issue in this declaratory judgment action presented on cross motions for summary judgment is whether Defendant Anne Triboski-Gray made a written request for limits of uninsured/underinsured motorist ("UM/UIM") coverage below her chosen limits of third party bodily injury coverage. Ms. Triboski-Gray's insurer, Plaintiff Brethren Mutual Insurance Company ("Brethren Mutual"), contends that her signature on Brethren Mutual's insurance application constituted the required written request for UM/UIM coverage limits of $35,000, as opposed to the $250,000 single person coverage limit for bodily injury sustained by a third party. Concluding that Ms. Triboski-Gray's signature on an application completed by the insurance company's agent does not constitute a written request for UM/UIM coverage limits below the coverage requested for bodily injury, I will deny Brethren Mutual's motion and grant Triboski-Gray's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

In the Spring of 2002, Frank Nauman, Ms. Triboski-Gray's former boyfriend, transferred his 1996 GMC Jimmy to her. Nauman's insurance policy on the vehicle had been procured through Michelle Grace of Business Insurance Specialists Limited ("BISL"). Nauman's policy was issued by National Grange Mutual Insurance Company, and provided a combined single bodily injury liability limit of $500,000 and UM/UIM limits of $35,000. (Dep. Grace, at 14-15; Pl.'s SMF, at ¶ 7.)

On March 25, 2002, Ms. Triboski-Gray telephoned BISL to receive a quote for insurance on the Jimmy. (While You Were Out Message, Dkt. Entry 14-6.) About a week later, on April 1, 2002, Ms. Triboski-Gray again telephoned Ms. Grace to follow up on her insurance quote. (While You Were Out Message, Dkt. Entry 14-7.) According to Ms. Grace, during the phone conversations, they spoke "about mirroring the coverage that Frank [Nauman] had . . . ."*fn1 (Dep. Grace, at 20-21.) In this regard, Ms. Triboski-Gray expressed concern about the potential costs of automobile insurance. (Dep. Triboski-Gray, Dkt. Entry 14-3, at 26, 40 & 44.) She requested the best coverages that she could afford. (Id. at 42.) As a result of the phone conversations, Ms. Grace developed a quote for Ms. Triboski-Gray with $250,000 per person and $500,000 per accident bodily injury liability and $35,000 per person and per accident UM/UIM coverage, attempting to mirror Mr. Nauman's coverage. (Quote Information Summary, Dkt. Entry 14-8, at 1-3; Dep. Grace, at 30.)

On April 11, 2002, Ms. Grace traveled to Ms. Triboski-Gray's residence with a prepared application for insurance coverage. (Dep. Grace, at 26.) While there, Ms. Grace advised Ms. Triboski-Gray that she could not completely duplicate Mr. Nauman's insurance policy because Brethren Mutual did not offer the same coverage. (Id. at 28.) The bodily Injury liability on Mr. Nauman's policy of $500,000 was not available at Brethren Mutual, so Ms. Grace proposed coverage of $250,000/$500,000/$100,000 (per person/per accident/property damage). (Id.; Dep. Triboski-Gray, at 28-30.) As to UM/UIM coverage, Ms. Grace proposed coverage of $35,000 per person and per accident.

Although Ms. Triboski-Gray does not recall discussing with Ms. Grace the matter of UM/UIM coverage, (Dep. Triboski-Gray, at 31), Ms. Grace testified that she told Ms. Triboski-Gray of the coverage limits proposed on the application, and that Ms. Triboski-Gray could elect UM/UIM coverage in amounts equal to the limits of the bodily injury coverage or no coverage at all. (Grace Dep. at 52.) According to Ms. Grace, Ms. Triboski-Gray said that $35,000 in UM/UIM coverage "was enough." (Id.)

At the conclusion of the visit, Ms. Triboski-Gray signed the required forms and wrote out a check for the premium. In particular, Ms. Triboski-Gray signed the statutorily-mandated "Important Notice"*fn2 (Important Notice, Dkt. Entry 14-8, at 19), the Pennsylvania Personal Auto Application (P.A. Personal Auto Application, Dkt. Entry 14-8, at 15-16);*fn3 Uninsured and Underinsured Coverage Selection/Rejection forms (P.A. Auto Supp., Dkt. Entry 14-8, at 17-18); a First Party Benefits Coverage form (Dkt. Entry 14-8, at 20); the Tort Option Selection; the Collision Deductible Option form (id. at 21); and the Driver Improvement Course Credit/Passive Restraint Discount/Anti-Theft Discount form. (Id. at 22.)

Ms. Triboski-Gray signed the UM and UIM selection/rejection forms in the sections reserved for rejecting the stacking of coverage. The forms recited that the insured "underst[ood] that the coverage selection and limit choices indicated here will apply to all future policy renewals, continuations and changes unless I notify [the insurance company] otherwise in writing." The forms, however, did not have any area designated for insertion of coverage limits, and there is nothing on the forms that indicated that UM/UIM coverage of $35,000 per person and per accident had been elected.*fn4

The UM and UIM selection/rejection forms signed by Ms. Triboski-Gray also recited, however, that the "limits of coverage that I am purchasing shall be reduced to the limits stated in the policy." The two-page Personal Auto Application prepared by Ms. Grace and signed by Ms. Triboski-Gray specified UM/UIM coverage of $35,000 per person and per accident. The coverage limits appear on the first page of the two-page application, and Ms. Triboski-Gray's signature appears on the second page. Ms. Triboski-Gray did not make any handwritten notation on the first page of the application. Above her signature, however, the application states that she has read the application and understands that "the coverage selection and limit choices indicated here . . . will apply to ally future policy renewals, continuations and changes" unless she notified Brethren Mutual otherwise in writing.

Ms. Triboski-Gray's insurance policy automatically renewed every six months. (Dep. Grace, at 58; Pl.'s SMF, at ¶ 31.) Ms. Triboski-Gray renewed her insurance policy twice without opting to change the terms and conditions, and continued to pay the premiums. (Renewal Declarations, Dkt. Entry 14-9, 32-40.)

On September 30, 2003, Ms. Triboski-Gray sustained personal injuries in an automobile accident. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ("SMF"), Dkt. Entry 14, ¶ 1.) Thereafter, she initiated a claim against Brethren Mutual for UIM benefits. Brethren Mutual paid Ms. Triboski-Gray $35,000, but denied liability above the amount set forth on the policy application and policy declarations.

Ms. Triboski-Gray claims entitlement to UIM coverage of $250,000, the coverage limits for bodily injury sustained by a third party. Brethren Mutual has brought this action to obtain a declaration that the policy of insurance issued to Ms. Triboski-Gray limits coverage to $35,000, and that it has discharged its obligation to Ms. Triboski-Gray for injuries sustained as a result of the September 30, 2003 accident.

II. DISCUSSION

Summary judgment should be granted when "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is "material" if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). An issue is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Summary judgment is to be entered "after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

In this case, there is a dispute as to what was said to Ms. Triboski-Gray at the time she procured the Brethren Mutual policy. Ms. Grace contends that she explained that Ms. Triboski-Gray could elect UM/UIM coverage in the amount of her third party bodily injury coverage, and that Ms. Triboski-Gray stated that $35,000 in coverage was sufficient. Ms. Triboski-Gray disputes Ms. Grace's account. Whether Ms. Triboski-Gray had actual knowledge of the limits of coverage, however, is not legally significant. See Nationwide Ins. Co. V. Resseguie, 980 F.2d 226, 228 (3d Cir. 1992). The dispositive question here is not whether Ms. Triboski-Gray was aware of the coverage limits; the controlling question is whether she made a written request for ...


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