Justices rule for State Farm in wreck involving city-owned truck

By Steve Korris | Apr 21, 2011

CHARLESTON – State Farm Mutual doesn't have to pay medical bills from a wreck that happened while a policy holder drove his employer's truck, the Supreme Court of Appeals have ruled.

The Justices affirmed Kanawha Circuit Judge James Stucky, who ruled that Michael Witt's personal auto policy didn't entitle him to coverage.

"After reading the policy, we accept State Farm's position," the Justices wrote in an unsigned opinion dated April 14. "We believe that the policy clearly and unambiguously does not provide coverage for the plaintiff."

Witt suffered serious injuries driving a South Charleston Sanitary Board truck in 2003.

He sued the other driver, Robert Sutton, along with State Farm and the board's insurer, Saint Paul Fire and Marine. He accused the insurers of deceptive trade practices in denying medical expenses.

He argued that his State Farm policy covered him if he drove a "non-owned car." He claimed State Farm should have paid the $10,000 medical limit in his policy.

He settled his claims against Sutton and Saint Paul, but State Farm wouldn't settle.

State Farm moved for summary judgment, arguing that the policy specifically excluded vehicles that employers owned.

Stucky granted it, finding the policy clear and unambiguous.
The Justices found no definition of "non-owned car" in the policy, but found instead a list of vehicles that are not non-owned.

The list included a car owned by an employer.

"The plaintiff takes the position that he is entitled to medical payments coverage while occupying an automobile because recovery of medical payments benefits is independent of the automobile's ownership or its status as insured or uninsured, as well as irrespective of any liability on the part of the insured," the Justices wrote. "State Farm, however, points out that the plaintiff's position essentially ignores the express language of the policy.

"The plaintiff has directed us to no statute or regulation indicating that medical payments coverage from a personal vehicle policy is required to be extended to a policy holder who is operating an employer's vehicle.

"We likewise see nothing in the record in the instant case indicating the existence of a public policy that is violated by the disputed policy language."

Charles Piccirillo and Sabrena Gillis, both of Shaffer and Shaffer in Charleston, represented State Farm.

Marvin Masters and Kelly Elswick-Hall, both of the Masters Law Firm in Charleston, represented Witt.

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