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Baldwin v. Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 14, 2020

AMOS BALDWIN, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALLSTATE FIRE AND CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Donald C. Nugent United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court upon cross-motions for summary judgment. Defendant Allstate Fire & Casualty Insurance Company, ("Allstate") filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF #52), and Plaintiffs, Amos and Laura Baldwin filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (ECF #51). The briefing was completed on December 23, 2019, and both parties had the opportunity to orally argue their motions at a status conference on December 30, 2019. (ECF #56, 57, 58, 59, 60). The parties agree that there is no factual dispute which would be relevant to the issue of coverage or Plaintiffs' claim of bad faith. Both sides, therefore, are asking the Court to decide these issues based on the agreed facts and the language of the applicable contracts. If the Court finds that Plaintiffs were covered under the policy, Plaintiff maintains that the question of damages would remain a triable issue.

         PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL HISTORY

         Plaintiffs originally filed this action in Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas against Defendant, Allstate, seeking coverage under their insurance contract with Allstate. The Complaint alleged that Mr. Baldwin suffered bodily injury in an automobile accident in which he was hit from behind by an unidentified driver. (ECF #1-2). Mr. Baldwin's wife also claimed damages for loss of consortium and the cost of Mr. Baldwin's treatment. (Id.) Plaintiffs included a bad faith claim against Allstate. (Id.).

         Allstate removed the case to federal court. (ECF #1). The parties both admit to the authenticity of the certified copy of the insurance policy attached as Exhibit A to the Plaintiffs Complaint. (ECF #1-2, 4). Plaintiffs later filed a First Amended Complaint naming Danielle Sanders as a defendant. (ECF #15). Ms. Sanders is a Georgia resident who is now known as Danielle Key Wright. Allstate did not object. (ECF #14). The First Amended Complaint alleged that Ms. Wright was the driver of the car that hit Mr. Baldwin, causing his injuries. Following discovery, it was determined that Ms. Wright had been misidentified and was not the driver of the vehicle at issue, nor was she present at, or in any way connected to the accident. (ECF #46). She was, consequently, dismissed from the action without opposition. (ECF #55).

         For purposes of these motions, the parties agree to the following facts. An unidentified driver struck Mr. Baldwin's vehicle from behind on May 20, 2016 at the intersection of South Taylor Road and Terrace Boulevard in the City of East Cleveland, Ohio. Mr. Baldwin was stopped at a traffic signal at the time of impact. The impact was severe enough to cause damage to Mr. Baldwin's vehicle and to cause him bodily injury. Mr. Baldwin required treatment for his injuries.

         The person who hit Mr. Baldwin was a man in his late thirties or early forties with black hair and was driving a grey Dodge truck. (ECF #46-1: A. Baldwin Depo. at 45-46, 49-50). This other driver stopped and came over to Mr. Baldwin to apologize explaining that the brakes had gone out on his truck. He did not give Mr. Baldwin his name, insurance information, or any contact information. The man did remain at the scene until the East Cleveland Police arrived, and spoke with the police. (ECF #46-1: A. Baldwin Depo. at 46-47). After speaking with the police officer, the man left the scene.

         There is no evidence that the other driver left his name or any other identifying information with the officer. When Mr. Baldwin sought to obtain the driver's information from the police, he received a report that did not include any identifying information for the other driver or the vehicle that struck him. (ECF #51-3). Mr. Baldwin later received a supplemental report. The supplemental report misidentified the other vehicle as a white Dodge Ram that was rented to Ms. Wright at the time of the accident. (ECF #51 -4). Neither Ms. Wright, nor a white Dodge Ram were actually involved in or present at the time of the accident. (ECF #46-1, 46-2). The supplemental report did not identify the driver of the other vehicle, or identify any insurance covering the driver or the vehicle. (ECF #51 -4).

         At the time of the accident, Mr. Baldwin was insured by Defendant, Allstate. That policy provides coverage for medical payment benefits, and for damages a person is "legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured auto." (ECF #1-2, at 41). An "uninsured auto" is defined, in relevant part, as follows:

4. a hit-and-run motor vehicle which causes bodily injury to an insured person or an additional insured person. The identity of both the operator and the owner of the vehicle must be unknown; however, independent corroborative evidence must exist to prove that the bodily injury of the insured person or additional insured person was proximately caused by the negligence or intentional acts of the unidentified operator of the motor vehicle. The testimony of any insured person or additional insured person seeking recovery from us shall not constitute independent corroborative evidence unless the testimony is supported by additional evidence. The accident must be reported within 24 hours to the proper authorities. We must be notified within 30 days from the date of the accident. If the insured person or additional insured person was occupying a vehicle at the time of the accident, we have a right to inspect it.

         Plaintiff claims that the medical expenses for treatment of his accident related injuries totalled $19, 300.00. Prior to the filing of this lawsuit, and following the receipt of a demand letter, Allstate eventually offered Mr. Baldwin $5, 000.00 in medical coverage plus an additional $5, 994.00 to avoid suit.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the court is satisfied "that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" only if its resolution will affect the outcome of the lawsuit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Accordingly, proper summary judgment analysis entails "the threshold inquiry of determining whether there is the need for a trial - whether, in other words, there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Id. at 250.

         Insurance coverage questions are generally questions of law for the Court to decide. See, Stafford v. Jewelers Mut. Ins. Co.,554 Fed.Appx. 360, 373 (6th Cir. 2014). "[W]ords and phrases used in an insurance policy must be given their natural and commonly accepted meaning, where they in fact possess such meaning, to the end that a reasonable interpretation of the insurance contract consistent with the apparent object and plain intent of the parties may be determined." Sauer v. Crews, 140 Ohio St.3d ...


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