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Lee v. Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Indiana

April 4, 2019

Troy Lee, Appellant-Plaintiff,
v.
Liberty Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Appellee-Defendant.

          Appeal from the Delaware Circuit Court No. 18C01-1608-CT-107. The Honorable Marianne Vorhees, Judge.

          Attorney for Appellant Scott A. Faultless Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Crystal Gates Rowe New Albany, Indiana Casey R. Stafford Kightlinger & Gray, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellant-Plaintiff, Troy Lee (Lee), appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Appellee-Defendant, Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (Liberty Mutual), concluding that Liberty Mutual is entitled to offer underinsured motorist benefits (UIM) coverage in an amount below the bodily injury liability coverage limits of the policy.[1]

         [¶2] We affirm.

         ISSUE

         [¶3] Lee presents this court with one issue on appeal, which we restate as: Whether the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Liberty Mutual when the policy's coverage of UIM benefits is in a lesser amount than the underlying liability coverage.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] On June 22, 2016, Lee was driving a Ford vehicle eastbound on State Road 32 in Delaware County, Indiana, when Jazmine Rice's (Rice) vehicle went left of center and collided into Lee's vehicle. At the time of the collision, Lee was driving his employer's vehicle insured by Liberty Mutual under an insurance policy offering $2, 000, 000 in bodily injury liability coverage, as well as UIM benefits of $60, 000. The parties agree that Lee was an insured under the policy, which contains the following pertinent language:

INDIANA UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE
****
A. Coverage
1. We will pay all sums the "insured" is legally entitled to recover as compensatory damages from the owner or driver of an "underinsured motor vehicle." The damage must result from "bodily injury" sustained by the "insured" and caused by the "accident" with an "underinsured motor vehicle."
The owner's or driver's liability for this damage must result from the ownership, maintenance or use of the "underinsured motor vehicle."
****
F. Additional Definitions
As used in this endorsement:
****
3. "Underinsured motor vehicle" means a land motor vehicle or "trailer" for which the sum of all liability bonds or policies at the time of an "accident" provides at least the amounts required by the financial responsibility law of Indiana but their limits are either:
a. Less than the limit of liability for this coverage; or
b. Reduced by payments to others injured in the "Accident" to an amount which is less than the limit of liability for this coverage.

(Appellant's App. Vol. II, pp. 227-30).

         [¶5] The parties do not dispute that Lee's employer executed a document, titled "Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Coverage and Limit Options Indiana" (Election Form), in which the employer elected as follows:

Indiana Law requires that we provide Bodily Injury Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Coverage equal to the Bodily Injury Auto Liability Limit. Indiana Law also requires that we provide Property Damage Uninsured Motorists Coverage at the basic Financial Responsibility limit if Bodily Injury Uninsured/Underinsured Motorists Coverage is provided. You may reject these coverages.
Underinsured Motorists Coverage pays for bodily injury . . . to you and your passengers as a result of an automobile accident . . . with a driver whose liability limits have been reduced by payment of claims arising from the same accident to an ...

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