Doneson v. Farmers Insurance (CA2 10/3/18)

This little insurance case is interesting mostly for its reminder about the parol evidence rule. It has also that rarest of things, a good footnote.

Plaintiff was injured in a car accident. Workers comp paid part of his medical bills but he had to repay that amount, per the workers comp statute, when he recovered from the third-party tortfeasor. He sought med pay from his own carrier, Farmers. Farmers denied the claim because its med pay provision excluded “bodily injury . . . during the course of employment if workers’ or workmen’s compensation benefits are required.” Plaintiff sued, arguing that since he had to repay the benefits they were not “required.” The trial court granted Farmers’ motion to dismiss. Plaintiff appealed.

The Court of Appeals affirms. It concludes that the policy language is not reasonably susceptible to Plaintiff’s interpretation. Plaintiff had a Nevada case dealing with an exclusion that covered workers comp “to the extent . . . required to be payable” by concluding that “payable” was ambiguous. But Farmers had a California case in which the exclusion said “payable or required to be provided” concluding that while “payable” alone might be ambiguous, “required” was not.

Plaintiff also argued that the trial court should have considered parol evidence. But under Taylor (1993) “the party seeking to introduce extrinsic evidence must show that the language of the contract is ‘reasonably susceptible’ to their proposed interpretation.”

There is one footnote in this opinion and, while we normally dislike them, this one is appropriate. Plaintiff tried to cite a trial court ruling in another case. The footnote points out that it “has no precedential value and we disregard it.” A slap on the hand is warranted but has no proper place in the text, thus the footnote.

(Opinion: Doneson v. Farmers)