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Porter v. Buck

United States District Court, Western District of Virginia, Roanoke Division

February 24, 2015

ABIGAIL LAN PORTER, Plaintiff
v.
JACOB CECIL BUCK, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN E. CONRAD CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

This declaratory judgment action is presently before the court on the motion for judgment on the pleadings filed by The Peninsula Insurance Company ("Peninsula"). For the reasons set forth below, the motion will be denied.

Background

On July 28, 2012, plaintiff Abigail Lan Porter was seriously injured in an accident involving two all-terrain vehicles ("ATVs"). The Kawasaki four-wheeled ATV on which Porter was riding as a passenger was driven by Jacob Cecil Buck. The second ATV was operated by Patrick Thomason. The accident occurred while the ATVs were being operated on a public roadway in Franklin County, Virginia. As a result of the accident, Porter sustained a catastrophic brain injury, causing her to incur over $590, 000.00 in medical expenses. She filed a personal injury action against Buck and Thomason in the Circuit Court of Franklin County, which remains pending.

At the time of the accident, Buck was insured under a liability insurance policy issued by Foremost Insurance Company. Buck's policy provided a total of $25, 000.00 in bodily injury coverage applicable to his operation and use of the vehicle on which Porter was riding as a passenger. Because Porter's medical expenses exceed the liability coverage provided under Buck's policy, Porter contended that Buck was an underinsured motorist, and sought payment from Peninsula based on the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage provided in an endorsement ("the Endorsement") to a commercial automobile insurance policy issued to Porter's father, Steve L. Porter ("the Policy").

The Endorsement at issue provides as follows:

"We" will pay in accordance with the Virginia Uninsured Motorists Law, all sums the "insured" is legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an "uninsured motor vehicle."

Endorsement at 2. The Endorsement further provides that "the most' we' will pay for all damages resulting from any one 'accident' is the limit of Uninsured Motorists Insurance shown in the Schedule of Declarations, " Id. at 2, which is $500, 000.00. See Policy Renewal Declaration at 1.

The Endorsement defines the term "uninsured motor vehicle" to include "a motor vehicle ... [w]hich is an 'underinsured motor vehicle.'" IcL The Endorsement also contains the following definition of the term "underinsured motor vehicle":

"Underinsured motor vehicle" means a motor vehicle, when, and to the extent that, the total amount of "bodily injury" and "property damage" coverage applicable to the operation or use of the motor vehicle and "available for payment" for such "bodily injury" or "property damage[, "] including all bonds or deposits of money or securities made pursuant to Article 15 (Section 46.2-435 et seq) of Chapter 3 of Title 46.2 of the Code of Virginia, is less than the total amount of uninsured motorist coverage afforded any person injured as a result of the operation or use of the motor vehicle.

Id. at 1. The term "motor vehicle" is not defined in the Endorsement.

Peninsula denied Porter's claim for uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. To resolve the coverage dispute, Porter filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Franklin County, seeking a declaratory judgment that the uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage provided in the Endorsement is applicable to the injuries she sustained in the ATV accident.

Peninsula removed the action to this court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction, and then moved for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Peninsula argues that an ATV is not a "motor vehicle" and, thus, that it is not an "uninsured motor vehicle" within the terms of the Endorsement. On this basis, Peninsula maintains that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[1] See Peninsula's Reply Br. at 2 (emphasizing that the "single, determinative question that the Motion[] asks the Court to ...


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