Erie Indemnity Company, as Attorney-in-Fact for the Subscribers at Erie Insurance Exchange, Appellant (Defendant)
Estate of Brian L. Harris, by Its Special Representative, Laura Harris, and Anna Marie Harris, Spouse of Brian L. Harris, Deceased, Appellees (Plaintiffs)
Argued: February 21, 2018
from the LaPorte Superior Court 2 No. 46D02-1511-CT-2015 The
Honorable Richard R. Stalbrink, Jr., Special Judge
Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No.
ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Mark R. Smith Smith Fisher Maas Howard
& Lloyd, P.C. Indianapolis, Indiana.
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEES Scott M. Keller Michael J. Anderson
Tracey S. Schafer Anderson, Agostino & Keller, P.C. South
ATTORNEY FOR AMICUS CURIAE INSURANCE INSTITUTE OF INDIANA,
INC. Bryan H. Babb Bose McKinney & Evans LLP
case arises from a tragic accident where an uninsured driver
under the influence of methamphetamine struck and killed
Brian Harris who was mowing his home's lawn near the
roadside. Harris's estate sought uninsured motorist
benefits under his employer's commercial auto policy,
claiming he qualified for coverage under the policy term
"others we protect." The insurance
company denied the claim, finding Harris was not entitled to
coverage under the policy, and the parties litigated the
matter to our courthouse door.
the issue before us remains whether the policy term
"others we protect" included
Harris. But unpacking this broader issue reveals a narrower,
threshold one—whether "others we
protect" is ambiguous and amenable to judicial
interpretation. Harris's estate urges that because the
term "others we protect" is
susceptible to multiple reasonable interpretations it
represents an ambiguous term in need of judicial construction
and must be construed in the estate's favor. Meanwhile,
the insurance company insists that, because a separate policy
section entitled OTHERS WE PROTECT explains
who qualifies as "others we protect,
" the term is unambiguous and impervious to judicial
construction. We agree with the insurance company and,
therefore, reverse the trial court's judgment.
and Procedural History
December 11, 1993, Erie Insurance Exchange ("Erie")
issued a Pioneer Commercial Auto Policy No. Q12 1130119 F7
(the "Policy") to Formco, Inc.
("Formco"), a plastics design and manufacturing
company in Elkhart County, Indiana. The Declarations Page
listed Formco as the only Named Insured and no other
Additional Insureds. Formco renewed the Policy every year
from 1994 through 2010, each year keeping itself as the lone
Named Insured. From 2005 through 2010, the Policy's
"Autos Covered" section listed a 2004 Toyota pickup
truck (VIN # 5TBBT44134S450733) as a scheduled vehicle.
Formco owned the truck and allowed its longtime employee
Brian Harris to drive it as his primary vehicle for personal
and business transportation. Like prior iterations, the 2010
Policy included an Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Coverage
Endorsement—Indiana (the "UM Endorsement")
that afforded coverage for bodily injury and property damage
resulting from an accident with an uninsured motorist.
UM Endorsement, Erie promised:
We will pay damages for bodily injury and
property damage that the law entitles you or
your legal representative to recover from
the owner or operator of an uninsured motor
vehicle . . . . Damages must result from a motor
vehicle accident arising out of the ownership or use of the
uninsured motor vehicle . . . as a motor
vehicle and involve . . . bodily injury to
you or others we protect.
App. Vol. II, p. 118. Just underneath this promise followed
the section entitled OTHERS WE PROTECT,
which listed 4 categories of potential claimants for
uninsured motorist benefits. Id. The Policy with
this UM Endorsement was in effect on August 6, 2010, when
tragedy befell Formco employee Brian Harris.
summer evening, while operating his personal riding lawnmower
at his private residence, Harris was struck and killed by an
uninsured motorist. His estate (the "Estate")
submitted claims for uninsured motorist bodily injury
("UMBI") and MedPay benefits under the Policy, and
Erie subsequently denied those claims. The Estate sued Erie
seeking, in part, a declaratory judgment entitling it to UMBI
coverage benefits for the accident that killed Harris and
damages up to the Policy limits.
eventually moved for summary judgment, arguing, as a matter
of law, the Policy did not provide UMBI coverage to the
Estate for Harris's death because he did not qualify as
"you, " "others we protect, "
"anyone we protect, " or "persons we
protect" under the Policy, including the UM Endorsement.
The Estate countered with a cross-motion for summary
judgment, arguing, as a matter of law, "Harris qualified
as 'others we protect' under the
'OUR PROMISE' section of the UM
Endorsement when he was struck and killed by an uninsured
trial court determined the case turned upon whether the
phrase "others we protect" as used
in the OUR PROMISE section included Harris.
The court found the phrase ambiguous and construed it in the
Estate's favor to include Harris. Since the court
concluded there were no genuine issues of material fact, it
granted summary judgment to the Estate.
appealed, and the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial
court's judgment. Erie Indem. Co. v. Estate of
Harris, 80 N.E.3d 923 (Ind.Ct.App. 2017). Like the trial
court below, the Court of Appeals found "others
we protect" ambiguous and construed it
in the Estate's favor to include Harris. Id. at
930-31. Erie then petitioned for transfer, which we granted,
thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. See
Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). We now reverse and remand with
instructions to enter summary judgment for Erie.
Court reviews summary judgments de novo, applying the same
standard as the trial court. SCI Propane, LLC v.
Frederick, 39 N.E.3d 675, 677 (Ind. 2015). Summary
judgment is appropriate only when the designated evidence
shows there is no genuine issue of material fact and the
moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Ind.
Trial Rule 56(C). See Hughley v. State, 15 N.E.3d
1000, 1003 (Ind. 2014). Parties filing cross-motions for
summary judgment neither alters this standard nor changes our
analysis—"we consider each motion separately to
determine whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as
a matter of law." SCI Propane, LLC, 39
N.E.3d at 677. Matters involving disputed insurance policy
terms present legal questions and are particularly apt for
summary judgment. Wagner v. Yates, 912 N.E.2d 805,
808 (Ind. 2009).
matter involves whether Formco's commercial auto policy
provides coverage for Harris's death in a motor vehicle
accident involving an uninsured motorist, when Harris was not
occupying a scheduled vehicle. The parties agree this case
presents no genuine issue of material fact, and presents only
one legal question, that is, the ...