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Lager v. Miller-Gonzalez

October 1, 2008

LAGER, APPELLEE,
v.
MILLER-GONZALEZ ET AL.; NATIONWIDE MUTUAL FIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT.



APPEAL from and CERTIFIED by the Court of Appeals for Lucas County, No. L-07-1022, 2007-Ohio-4094.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Wrongful death - Uninsured- and underinsured-motorist coverage - Other-owned-auto exclusion - Coverage for bodily injury or derivative claims.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: O'connor,j.

Submitted June 3, 2008

{¶1} In this wrongful-death case, we address language in an insurance policy offered by appellant, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company, that provides uninsured- and underinsured-motorist coverage ("UM") to insureds "because of bodily injury suffered" but that also contains an other-owned-auto exclusion that denies coverage "for bodily injury or derivative claims."

{¶2} The trial court and court of appeals concluded that the language in the exclusion was ambiguous and accordingly construed the policy in favor of coverage of appellee, Fred L. Lager as administrator of the estate of his daughter, Sara Lager ("Sara").

{¶3} We reverse.

RELEVANT BACKGROUND

{¶4} Sara died from injuries sustained in an automobile accident that occurred while she was a passenger in her own car, which was then being driven by her boyfriend, Ryan Miller-Gonzalez. There is no dispute that Sara's death was caused by injuries sustained in the accident.

{¶5} At the time of the accident, Sara's vehicle was insured by a policy issued to her by Nationwide. The policy provided UM coverage of $50,000 for each person and $100,000 for each occurrence.

{¶6} Sara's parents, Fred and Cathy Lager ("the Lagers"), also had a vehicle that was insured by Nationwide through a separate motor vehicle policy. The Lagers' policy provided UM coverage of $300,000 for each person and $300,000 for each occurrence for the Lagers or a "relative." For purposes here, there is no dispute that Sara was a "relative" of the Lagers and that her vehicle was "uninsured" under the terms of the Lagers' policy.*fn1

{¶7} The UM endorsement in the Lagers' policy stated: "We will pay compensatory damages, including derivative claims, that you or a relative are legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of an uninsured motor vehicle under the tort law of the state where the motor vehicle accident occurred, because of bodily injury suffered by you or a relative and resulting from the motor vehicle accident. Damages must result from a motor vehicle accident arising out of the: 1. ownership; 2. maintenance; or 3. use; of the uninsured motor vehicle." (Boldface sic; emphasis added.)

{¶8} The policy defined "BODILY INJURY" as "a) physical injury; b) sickness; c) disease; or d) resultant death; of any person which results directly from a motor vehicle accident." (Boldface sic.)

{ΒΆ9} The Lagers' policy also contained an "other owned auto" exclusion that is critical to our analysis. That exclusion states that "coverage does not apply to anyone for bodily injury or derivative claims: * * * 3.While any insured operates or occupies a motor vehicle: a) owned by: b) furnished to; or c) available for the regular use of; you or a relative, ...


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