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Joan J. Stickley v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company

April 25, 2013

JOAN J. STICKLEY
v.
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greene, J.

Joan J. Stickley v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Company,

No. 48,

Opinion by Greene, J.

INSURANCE - MOTOR VEHICLE INSURANCE LAW - HOUSEHOLD EXCLUSIONS

Maryland's motor vehicle insurance law includes certain requirements with regard to household exclusions. Under Md. Code (1997, 2002 Repl. Vol., 2005 Cum. Supp.), § 19- 504.1 of the Insurance Article, when liability coverage in a "private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance" policy exceeds the minimum amount of coverage required in the State, an insurer "shall offer . . . under a policy . . . of private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance liability coverage for claims made by a family member in the same amount as the liability coverage for claims made by a non-family member . . . ." The language of the statute unambiguously refers to specific policies of motor vehicle liability insurance, and a general personal liability umbrella policy that merely contains some motor vehicle liability coverage, in addition to other forms of coverage, does not fall within the meaning of the statute.

Bell, C.J. Harrell Battaglia Greene Adkins Barbera McDonald, JJ.

Opinion by Greene, J.

Joan Stickley ("Petitioner") was a passenger in a motor vehicle accident, in which the driver of the vehicle, her husband, was killed, and in which she suffered serious injuries. At the time of the accident, Petitioner and her husband had a motor vehicle liability insurance policy with State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm Auto"), and an umbrella policy with State Farm Fire and Casualty Company ("Respondent")

(collectively, "State Farm"). The umbrella policy contained a household exclusion,*fn1 which formed the basis for State Farm's denial of Petitioner's claim under the umbrella policy. Petitioner challenges the household exclusion's validity in light of Maryland Code (1997, 2002 Repl. Vol., 2005 Cum. Supp.), § 19-504.1 of the Insurance Article ("§ 19-504.1"),*fn2 which requires an insurer to offer liability coverage for claims of family members in the same amount of liability coverage for claims of non-family members under a "policy or binder of private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance." Petitioner claims that she and her husband were never offered equal coverage for family members under their umbrella policy, which contained motor vehicle coverage. Therefore, according to Petitioner, the household exclusion in their umbrella policy is void.

The issue before this Court is the proper interpretation of the phrase "private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance" as contained in § 19-504.1. Specifically, we are asked whether an umbrella policy fits within that definition such that an insurer must offer an insured liability coverage for family members in the same amount as the liability coverage for non-family members. We shall hold that the umbrella policy does not fit within the definition of "private passenger motor vehicle liability insurance" as contained in § 19-504.1.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On March 19, 2008, Petitioner was riding as a passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband when, according to Petitioner, her husband negligently drove into an intersection and was struck by another vehicle. As a result of the accident, Petitioner's husband was killed and Petitioner suffered serious injuries.

At the time of the accident, Petitioner and her husband had several policies of insurance issued by State Farm. They had a motor vehicle liability policy with coverage of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident with State Farm Auto. Mrs. Stickley and her husband also had a Personal Liability Umbrella Policy with personal liability and uninsured motorist coverage of $2,000,000 with Respondent, a subsidiary of State Farm Auto. According to Petitioner, the Stickleys purchased both policies from the same State Farm agent.

The umbrella policy was originally purchased in the 1980's and issued by State Farm.

It provided coverage for bodily injury, personal injury,*fn3 and property damage. On the "Declarations Page," the umbrella policy required the insured to maintain specific underlying insurance, including automobile liability insurance. The umbrella policy also included the following language under the "Exclusions" and "Definitions" sections, respectively:

EXCLUSIONS

There is no coverage under this policy for any:

13. bodily injury or personal injury to any insured as defined in part a. or b. of the definition of insured, including any claim made or suit brought against any insured to share damages with or repay someone else who may be obligated to pay damages because of such bodily injury or personal injury[.]

DEFINITIONS

6. "insured" means:

a. you and your relatives whose primary residence is your household;

b. any other human being under the age of 21 whose primary residence is your household and who is in the care of a person described in 6.a[.]

12. "relative" means any person related to you by blood, ...


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