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Allstate Insurance Co. v. Harmon

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 21, 2018

ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
MARLENE D. HARMON; STEVEN BRUCE WALDMAN; and ANABEL ALBERNI, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Tatiana Sanchez, deceased, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

          FEDERICO A. MORENO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This case stems from a fatal auto accident involving a rental car being driven by someone other than the person who rented the vehicle. The question is whether the renter's auto policy extends coverage for the accident. In cases involving rental cars the policy extends coverage to policyholders. The policy at issue does not actually use the term policyholder, but instead categorizes people as "listed drivers" and "named insureds." The driver of the rental car is a "listed driver" under this policy and not a "named insured." Allstate argues that "named insured" is synonymous with policyholder, thereby excluding the accident from coverage. Defendant argues that the policy is ambiguous and the driver of the rental car, as a "listed driver, " should be considered a policyholder. The Court agrees with Allstate and grants summary judgment in its favor.

         Background

         This case arises out of a tragic automobile accident that occurred on January 20, 2016, resulting in the death of Tatiana Sanchez and injuries to Jose E. Gomez. Earlier that evening, Ms. Sanchez's automobile was struck by another vehicle owned by Mr. Gomez, a passenger in that vehicle. Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Gomez exited their respective vehicles after the accident to inspect the damage, at which point Ms. Sanchez and Mr. Gomez were struck by Defendant Steven Bruce Waldman. Mr. Waldman was driving a 2016 Hyundai Sante Fe that had been rented by Defendant Marlene D. Harmon. Ms. Harmon had rented the Hyundai from Enterprise Leasing Company of Florida, LLC and allegedly permitted Mr. Waldman to drive it. Ms. Harmon and Mr. Waldman are not related and, at the time of the accident, were not married.[1]

         Ms. Sanchez's estate subsequently filed a wrongful death lawsuit against, amongst others, Defendants Waldman and Harmon in the Circuit Court in and for Miami-Dade County, Florida (Case No. 2017-009968-CA-01), seeking damages. Allstate is defending Mr. Waldman in that lawsuit pursuant to a reservation of rights. Ms. Harmon has not yet been served, but Allstate anticipates that she will be. Likewise, Mr. Gomez has not yet filed a related personal injury claim, but has notified Allstate that he intends to do so. As such, to avoid incurring unnecessary litigation costs, Allstate seeks a declaration from this Court as to whether liability coverage exists for the wrongful death and personal injury claims arising from the underlying accident. This Court declares that it does not.

         Legal Standard

         Summary judgment is authorized where there is no genuine issue of material fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 157 (1970). The party opposing the motion for summary judgment may not simply rest upon mere allegations or denials of the pleadings; the non-moving party must establish the essential elements of its case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986). The non-movant must present more than a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-movant's . position. A jury must be able reasonably to find for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 254(1986).

         Analysis

         At issue is whether the subject auto policy extends coverage to the auto accident involving Mr. Waldman. In the instant action, neither Ms. Harmon nor Mr. Waldman has appeared to contest Allstate's request for declaration, and both have had defaults entered against them. Instead, Ms. Sanchez's estate, a third-party claimant, is challenging Allstate's coverage position.

         A. The Auto Policy

         Allstate issued the contested auto policy for the policy period January 13, 2016 to July 13, 2016. The policy carried liability coverage subject to the terms, conditions, limitations, and exclusions in the policy. At the time of the subject accident, the policy listed a 2001 Lexus Rx300 on the Policy Declarations as the covered vehicle.

         The insuring obligation and the liability coverage provisions of the subject policy are found at Part I - Automobile Liability Insurance Bodily Injury - Coverage AA Property Damages - Coverage BB, which state, in relevant part:

Allstate will pay for all damages an insured person is legally obligated to pay because of bodily injury or property damage.

         The policy defines "Allstate, " "we, " "us, " or "our" as "the company shown on the Policy Declarations;" and "you" or "your" as "the policyholder named on the Policy Declarations and that policy holder's resident spouse." The policy defines "insured person" to ...


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