April 22, 2019

Colorado Court of Appeals: Underinsured Motorist Benefits Only Triggered When Policy Limits Reached on Tortfeasor’s Liability Policy

The Colorado Court of Appeals issued its opinion in Jordan v. Safeco Insurance Company of America, Inc. on Thursday, March 28, 2013.

Summary Judgment—Underinsured Motorist Benefits.

Plaintiffs Philip and Roberta Jordan appealed the district court’s summary judgment in favor of defendant Safeco Insurance Company of America, Inc. (Safeco) on their claim that Safeco unreasonably denied them underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits. The judgment was affirmed.

In 2009, the Jordans were involved in an automobile accident with J.F., a minor driver. The Jordans were injured and sued J.F. J.F.’s automobile insurance policy covered damages for injury to others up to $100,000 per person or $300,000 per accident. The Jordans settled for $60,000 and $38,500, respectively.

The Jordans sought underinsured motorist (UIM) benefits under their policy with Safeco, asserting that the policy covered all damages unpaid under the settlements, up to the policy limit. Safeco maintained that their UIM coverage would be triggered only if either of them had damages exceeding the $100,000 limit of J.F.’s policy, which neither did.

The Jordans sued Safeco, asserting claims for (1) common law bad faith breach of an insurance contract; (2) unreasonable delay and denial of payment of a claim in violation of CRS §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116; and (3) deceptive trade practice in violation of the Colorado Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). The Jordans moved for summary judgment under their unreasonable delay claims, and Safeco moved for summary judgment on the same claims and the bad faith claim. The parties stipulated that neither could prove damages in excess of $100,000, and the court granted the Jordans’ motion to dismiss their own CCPA claim.

The court granted Safeco’s motion for summary judgment. On appeal, the Jordans challenged only the grant of summary judgment in favor of Safeco under CRS §§ 10-3-1115 and -1116 and conceded that no material facts were disputed.

The Court of Appeals concluded that Safeco’s denial of coverage was permissible under the clear language of the policy, as well as the unambiguous terms of CRS § 10-4-609. The policy language unambiguously provides that payment of UIM benefits are only for damages above the tortfeasor’s insurance policy liability limit. Here, the damages did not exceed those limits.

The Jordans also argued that under CRS § 10-4-609, an insured’s good faith settlement with a tortfeasor necessarily exhausts the tortfeasor’s liability limits. That section, as amended January 1, 2008, requires that UIM coverage “shall be in addition to any legal liability coverage and shall cover the difference, if any, between the amount of the limits of any legal liability coverage and the amount of the damages sustained.” This is plain and unambiguous language. The trigger is the exhaustion of the tortfeasor’s “limits of . . . legal liability coverage.” The judgment was affirmed.

Summary and full case available here.

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