American Family v. Sharp (5/31/12)

Justice Pelander answers this certified question in 16 pages, which for him is admirable, and much-appreciated-by-bloggers, brevity. The answer is also correct, though we’re not sure that the reasoning doesn’t raise as many questions as it answers.

Sharp was injured while a passenger on her husband’s motorcycle. They had separate AmFam policies, he on his motorcycle and she on her car. She recovered his liability limits then claimed UIM from her own policy. The policies said in effect that the spouse of a named policyholder, where the couple had multiple AmFam policies, could chose from either but not both. AmFam filed a declaratory action in federal court, which certified a long-winded question asking whether 20-259.01H applies (“If multiple policies or coverages purchased by one insured on different vehicles apply to an accident or claim, the insurer may limit the coverage so that only one policy or coverage, selected by the insured, shall be applicable to any one accident.”)

The court says that “The [statutes’] text alone does not resolve the parties’ dispute.” We don’t entirely understand that since the statute speaks of multiple policies purchased by one insured, not multiple policies purchased by multiple insureds.  According to a footnote on the last page, the parties fought about whether she was “one insured” but the court doesn’t address that issue because it has already decided the case despite it. So what does “one insured” really mean, if not “one insured?” Guess that will have to be answered down the line.

Anyway, the court looks to “legislature’s intent, considering the statute’s context, effects and consequences, and spirit and purpose.” After a brief analysis it concludes that “the phrase “multiple policies or coverages” applies when an insured obtains coverages for several vehicles and then attempts to claim multiple UIM coverages for the same accident.” In other words, the court focuses the controversy not on the “one insured” language but on the “one policy or coverage language,” holding that it applies only to UIM coverage, so that a liability claim against one policy doesn’t bar a UIM claim against the other.

(link to opinion)