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Wilson v. Security Ins. Co.

Supreme Court of Connecticut

January 30, 1990

James WILSON
v.
SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY. SECURITY INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
James WILSON.

Argued Nov. 1, 1989.

[213 Conn. 533] David M. Reilly, with whom was Peter B. Reilly, for appellant-appellee (James Wilson).

Susan M. Cormier, with whom was Wesley W. Horton, for appellee-appellant (Security Ins. Co.).

Before PETERS, C.J., and ARTHUR H. HEALEY, CALLAHAN, GLASS and COVELLO, JJ.

Page 41

COVELLO, Associate Justice.

These consolidated appeals followed a judgment of the trial court confirming an uninsured motorist arbitration award. The principal issue is whether coverage for uninsured motorists contained in a fleet automobile liability policy may be combined or "stacked" in determining the total amount of coverage available to a single claimant. We conclude that such a result is beyond the reasonable expectations of the parties to the insurance contract and that "stacking" is inappropriate in the context of fleet automobile liability policies. We therefore remand the matter to the trial court with direction to modify the award accordingly.

The relevant facts are not in dispute. On January 1, 1982, the defendant, Security Insurance Company, had in force a business automobile liability policy insuring thirty-one vehicles owned by the town of Woodbridge. The policy contained an endorsement providing uninsured motorist coverage in the amount of $40,000 for each vehicle. Each vehicle was separately listed on the policy. The policy also contained a separate schedule of premiums for each vehicle that included a $3 or $5 charge per vehicle for the $40,000 of uninsured motorist [213 Conn. 534] coverage. The town paid a total of $137 for the uninsured motorist coverage on all thirty-one vehicles. The policy further contained a provision declaring that any sums payable under the uninsured motorist's endorsement to the policy would be reduced by "[a]ll sums paid or payable under any workers' compensation ... law."

On January 1, 1982, the plaintiff, James Wilson, was a Woodbridge police officer who was assigned to operate a police car that was covered by the defendant's policy. While on duty, and while standing in the vicinity of his parked vehicle, the plaintiff was struck and severely injured by a hit and run motorist.

Unable to agree on either the amount of uninsured motorist coverage available under the defendant's policy or whether the plaintiff was even covered by the policy, the parties submitted the issues to arbitration. They stipulated that the total value of the plaintiff's claim was $350,000, that the sum of $74,033.39 had been paid in workers' compensation benefits, and that "stacking" of coverage, if applicable, was limited to the six vehicles assigned to the police department. The arbitration panel concluded that the plaintiff was a "Named Insured" under the policy and that its uninsured motorist provisions were applicable to him. The panel further concluded that, since the six vehicles were listed on the policy and a separate premium charged for each, "stacking" of the insurance coverage was proper. From the $240,000 maximum limit available (six vehicles X $40,000), the panel subtracted $74,033.39 in previously paid workers' compensation benefits. It concluded, therefore, that the plaintiff was due the sum of $165,966.61.

The defendant filed an application in Superior Court seeking to set aside the arbitration award in its entirety [213 Conn. 535] pursuant to General Statutes § 52-418. [1] The plaintiff filed a separate application seeking to correct only that portion of the decision that reduced the award by the amount of the previously paid workers' compensation benefits. The trial court, Meadow, J., confirmed the award in its entirety and rendered judgment denying both applications. The defendant appealed and the plaintiff cross appealed to the Appellate Court. We thereafter transferred both matters to ourselves pursuant to Practice Book § 4023.

On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court erred in concluding: (1) the plaintiff was a "named insured" under the policy; and (2) "stacking" was permitted in the context of fleet automobile liability policies. In view of our conclusion that the trial court erred by allowing the "stacking" of the fleet automobile uninsured motorist

Page 42

coverage, we need not address the first issue raised.

In Cohn v. Aetna Ins. Co., 213 Conn. 525, 569 A.2d 541, (1990), we examined the applicability of "stacking" principles in the context of fleet insurance contracts. We defined such a contract as "any insurance policy designated as a 'fleet' or 'garage' policy, or any insurance policy covering a number of vehicles owned by a business, a governmental entity, or an institution." (Emphasis added.) Cohn v. Aetna Ins. Co., supra, 213 Conn. at 530, 569 A.2d 541. We concluded that "[t]he notion of 'stacking' as an objectively reasonable expectation of the parties [did] not ... extend to fleet insurance contracts." Cohn v. Aetna Ins. Co., supra, 213 Conn. at 530, 569 A.2d 541. The reason was that it was simply not credible that "a company or an [213 Conn. 536] employee of a company having a fleet of ... vehicles would reasonably expect the coverage on [any one vehicle] at the time of the collision with an uninsured [or underinsured] motorist to be [a multiple of the total number of vehicles in the fleet]...." Linderer v. Royal Globe Ins. Co., 597 S.W.2d 656, 661 (Mo.App.1980).

In the present case, the town of Woodbridge held a fleet policy insuring thirty-one vehicles. Each vehicle had uninsured motorist coverage with stated limits of $40,000. If "stacking" were permitted, $40,000 times thirty-one vehicles would produce $1,240,000 of uninsured motor vehicle coverage available for each vehicle. Followed to its logical conclusion, this would mean that the town of Woodbridge had purchased a total of $38,440,000 worth of uninsured motorist coverage for a premium of $137. " ' "Clearly such an expectation would not have been a reasonable one under the terms of the commercial fleet policy here in question." ' Ohio Casualty Ins. Co. v. Stanfield, 581 S.W.2d 555, 559 (Ky.1979), quoting Lambert v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co., 331 So.2d 260, 265 (Ala.1976)...." Cohn v. Aetna Ins. Co., supra. Even the present parties, in their unexplained stipulation limiting "stacking" principles to the six vehicles assigned to the Woodbridge police department, seemed to have sensed that the proposition is simply unsupportable when applied to large numbers of vehicles.

In his cross appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court erred in allowing the defendant a credit for workers' compensation benefits already paid to him in determining the amounts due under the uninsured motorist coverage. The plaintiff concedes, as he must, that the uninsured motorists' endorsement to the policy here in issue contained a specific provision reducing any amounts payable under the uninsured motorist endorsement by any sums paid under the workers' compensation[213 Conn. 537] laws. [2] Further, § 38-175a-6(d) of the ...


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