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Starr v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 16, 2016

Bradley Starr by Next Friend Heather Starr-Haller and Heather Starr-Haller, Appellants-Plaintiffs,
v.
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Appellees-Defendants.

         Appeal from the Hendricks Superior Court The Honorable Stephenie LeMay-Luken, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 32D05-1501-PL-12

          Attorney for Appellants Brian J. Johnson Danville, Indiana.

          Attorneys for Appellees Lewis S. Wooten Michael R. Giordano Lewis Wagner, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana.

          NAJAM, JUDGE.

         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Heather Starr-Haller, on behalf of herself and her minor son, Bradley, appeals the trial court's entry of summary judgment for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") on Starr-Haller's complaint. Starr-Haller raises a single issue for our review, namely, whether the trial court erred when it entered summary judgment for State Farm. We affirm.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶2] Between December of 2011 and September of 2014, Starr-Haller had an automobile insurance policy through State Farm for her 1998 Chevy Blazer. State Farm provided Starr-Haller's coverage in six-month terms. However, State Farm billed Starr-Haller for her coverage on a monthly basis.

         [¶3] On three occasions between October 2012 and June 2014, Starr-Haller failed to timely pay the monthly installment due on her premium. Following each missed installment payment, State Farm mailed Starr-Haller a "Cancellation Notice" that stated both the amount due and a coverage "Cancel Date." Appellants' App. at 147, 149, 151. If Starr-Haller failed to pay her premium by the Cancel Date, the Cancellation Notices explained that the following would occur:

Payment prior to the date and time of cancellation will reinstate your policies. If paid after that date and time, you will be informed whether your policies have been reinstated and, if so, the exact date and time of reinstatement. There is no coverage between the date and time of cancellation and the date and time of reinstatement.

Id. (emphasis added).

         [¶4] On each of those three occasions, Starr-Haller failed to make the installment payment required prior to the relevant Cancel Date, but she did pay that amount thereafter during the same policy period. Following each late installment payment, State Farm mailed Starr-Haller a "Reinstatement Notice." Id. at 148, 151, 154. Those notices stated again that, because Starr-Haller had made her installment payments after the relevant Cancel Dates, "there [wa]s no coverage between the date and time of Cancellation and the date and time of Reinstatement." Id.

         [¶5] According to the terms of Starr-Haller's insurance agreement with State Farm, "if [State Farm] cancel[s] this policy, then premium will be earned on a pro rata basis.[ ]Any unearned premium may be returned within a reasonable time after cancellation. Delay in the return of any unearned premium does not affect the cancellation date." Id. at 144. While State Farm accepted each of Starr-Haller's late installment payments in full, it did not refund any portion of the premium for the periods during which her coverage had lapsed.

         [¶6] In August of 2014, Starr-Haller again failed to pay her automobile insurance installment premium. Accordingly, on September 3, State Farm mailed Starr-Haller another Cancellation Notice. According to that Notice, State Farm would cancel Starr-Haller's automobile insurance coverage if she did not pay her $430 premium[1] by the Cancel Date, September 18. As with the prior Cancellation Notices, the September 3 Cancellation Notice informed Starr-Haller that her failure to pay the amount due by the September 18 Cancel Date would result in a lapse of coverage between that Cancel Date and the date that State Farm reinstated Starr-Haller's coverage following her payment. Id. at 156.

         [¶7] Seven weeks later, on October 30, Starr-Haller dropped a check off at her State Farm agent's place of business, after business hours, in the amount of $350. Later that evening, Starr-Haller's minor son, Bradley, was involved in a one-car accident in the Chevy Blazer that resulted in injuries to him and totaled the vehicle. Sometime thereafter, Starr-Haller paid the remaining $80 due. Upon receiving the total balance due, State Farm reinstated Starr-Haller's automobile insurance coverage.[2] State Farm did not refund to Starr-Haller any portion of her premium during that policy term.

         [¶8] Starr-Haller filed a claim with State Farm for coverage relating to the October 30 accident. State Farm denied the claim on the ground that it had cancelled Starr-Haller's coverage, which had not been reinstated as of the accident date. On January 21, 2015, Starr-Haller filed a complaint against State Farm for breach of contract, along with other claims against other parties. On December 3, State Farm moved for summary judgment, which the trial court ...


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