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Geico Casualty Co. v. Alicea

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 26, 2019

GEICO CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiff
v.
ARACELIA ALICEA, Administratrix of the Estate of JORGE TOLEDO, Deceased, TINA PIERCE, and LILIANA TOLEDO, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ALAN N. BLOCH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant GEICO Casualty Company’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 26) and Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 23). For the reasons set forth herein, each motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Specifically, Plaintiff/Counterclaim Defendant’s motion shall be granted to the extent that it seeks a declaration that it has no further obligations for the November 11, 2016 accident at issue as to Aracelia Alicea and Tina Pierce and denied to the extent that it seeks such a declaration as to Liliana Toledo. Conversely, Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs’ motion shall be granted to the extent that it seeks a declaration that Liliana Toledo is entitled to recover under the relevant stacked underinsured motorists policy and denied in all other respects.

         I. CASE BACKGROUND

         This is an action brought by GEICO Casualty Company (“Plaintiff or “GEICO”) for declaratory judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Plaintiff asserts that this Court has jurisdiction over the matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 since the amount in controversy is in excess of $75, 000.00, and there is complete diversity of citizenship between the parties. As set forth in the complaint, Plaintiff seeks for the Court to enter an order granting its declaratory judgment action and declaring that it has no further obligation to provide Underinsured Motorists (“UIM”) benefits to the three named defendants for the events relevant to this case. Defendants/Counterclaim Plaintiffs (“Defendants”) filed an answer and counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that Plaintiff must provide stacked UIM coverage of $400, 000.00 either to Defendant Aracelia Alicea, as Administratrix to the Estate of Jorge Toledo or individually, or to Defendant Liliana Toledo, and stacked UIM coverage of $400, 000.00 to Defendant Tina Pierce.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This case stems from what all parties agree was a tragic automobile accident that occurred on November 11, 2016 in the City of Erie, Pennsylvania. On that date, Jorge Toledo and Tina Pierce were travelling in a 1999 Chevrolet Blazer owned by Aracelia Alicea, who is Mr. Toledo’s mother, and her husband, Edwin A. Perez. The Blazer was struck by a vehicle operated by Kevin Deck, causing Ms. Pierce and Mr. Toledo to be ejected from their vehicle. Ms. Pierce, who was the driver of the Blazer, suffered serious injuries ultimately resulting in the amputation of her left leg. Mr. Toledo died from his injuries. The parties agree that Mr. Deck, who was drunk at the time, was solely responsible for the accident.

         The Blazer was insured by GEICO under Policy No. 4183-33-15-54 through Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez (“the Policy”). It was one of four vehicles insured by Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez through GEICO under the Policy. Mr. Deck was also insured by GEICO under a policy providing liability insurance of $15, 000.00 per person and $30, 000.00 per accident. GEICO tendered the policy limits of Mr. Deck’s coverage to the Estate of Mr. Toledo and Ms. Pierce. The Estate and Ms. Pierce also made claims to GEICO under Section IV of the Policy, pertaining to uninsured and underinsured motorists coverage. The parties have no dispute that Mr. Deck was underinsured for purposes Section IV of the Policy, and GEICO has, in fact, paid $100, 000.00 each to the Estate of Mr. Toledo and to Ms. Pierce, which was the per person limit of the relevant UIM coverage pursuant to the Declarations Page of the Policy. (Appendix to Defendants’ Concise Statement of Material Facts in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, Ex. A (Doc No. 24-1) at 5).

         However, Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez’s Policy also contained an amendment providing for “stacked” UIM coverage - i.e., the per person UIM limits for the four insured vehicles could be combined, resulting in a per person limit of $400, 000.00 and a per accident limit of $1, 200, 000.00 - that applied to Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez personally and to any household member (“Stacked UIM Policy”). Specifically, the Stacked UIM Policy provided that GEICO

will pay damages for bodily injury caused by an accident which the insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator on an underinsured motor vehicle arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of that motor vehicle.

(Doc. No.24-1 at 39) (emphasis in original). However, not all “insureds, ” as defined by the Policy and the Stacked UIM Policy, were eligible for stacked coverage. In regard to the limit of GEICO’s liability under the Stacked UIM Policy, the language stated:

For you or a household member, the most we will pay for all damages including those for care or loss of services due to bodily injury to one person in any one accident is the sum of the “each person” limits for Underinsured Motorists Coverage shown in the declarations applicable to each vehicle.
Subject to the “each person” limit above, for you or your household members, the most we will pay for all damages including those for care or loss of services due to bodily injury to two or more persons in any one accident is the sum of the “each accident” limit shown in the declarations applicable to each vehicle.

(Id at 40) (emphasis in original). The liability limit for all other insureds was subject to the limits shown in the Declarations page of the Policy for “each person” and “each accident” applicable to the vehicle that the insured was occupying at the time of the accident. (Id). In other words, UIM coverage could only be stacked for the policy holders themselves and their household members. Pursuant to the Definitions section of the Stacked UIM Policy:

Household Member means a person residing in your household who is:
(a) Your spouse; or
(b) A relative; or
(c) A minor in your custody or the custody of a relative.

(Id at 39) (emphasis in original).

         At the time of the accident Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez resided together at their home at 724 East 14th Street, Erie, PA, where they had lived since 1995. Ms. Alicea’s son, Mr. Toledo, and his long-time partner, Ms. Pierce, lived with their daughter, Liliana Toledo, in the apartment they rented at 734 East 14th Street, Erie, PA, where they had lived for approximately a year prior to the accident. Mr. Toledo and Ms. Pierce’s apartment was on the same street and one building over from the house of Ms. Alicea and Mr. Perez, and, indeed, they moved to the apartment to be closer to Mr. Toledo’s parents. The two families interacted often, and, as will be further discussed herein, Liliana in ...


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