No proof of driver’s UM status
On July 11, 2012, Silas Dean was driving his wife’s 2001 Lexus 300, which was insured (with uninsured motorists coverage) by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. He was going west through an intersection and testified that he had the green light but was struck by a southbound 2011 Ford Ranger driven by Robert McKellar and insured by Progressive Insurance Company. The impact spun the Lexus around, resulting in two impacts. Dean testified that he was “in a daze” after the collision until McKellar walked up to his window and denied that he (McKellar) ran a red light. Dean was positive that he had the green light.
Dean was taken to a hospital and in the ensuing months was treated by a chiropractor, a pain management specialist, and a physical therapist; he was also examined by a neurosurgeon. He believed that the accident aggravated pre-existing back and neck problems that he had been treating for years.
Dean and his wife filed suit against State Farm in August 2013. He alleged that McKellar’s liability coverage was “insufficient to fully compensate petitioners for all” injuries and damage; hence the UM claim. He also alleged that State Farm “arbitrarily, capriciously, and without cause refused to timely tender a reasonable and fair amount” under the UM coverage, entitling him to statutory penalties, damages, and attorney fees.
State Farm made general denials, admitting that it had issued UM coverage to the Deans with a limit of $25,000 per person per accident. State Farm also asserted that Dean was comparatively negligent in the accident and had many pre-existing injuries unrelated to the accident.
In October 2013, State Farm moved for partial summary judgment to dismiss the bad faith adjusting claim. In a memo in support, State Farm recited that Dean made a claim against McKellar’s liability carrier, Progressive, which “paid its policy limit of $100,000 to plaintiff for settlement of plaintiff’s injury claim.” State Farm showed that Dean had submitted medical bills of only $19,249.05 as a result of the accident and argued that his remaining damages were not worth $100,000; hence he could not prove bad faith just because he disagreed with State Farm’s assessment of his injury. In support, State Farm attached a copy of the Deans’ full release of all claims with indemnity with Progressive in exchange for payment of $100,000.
Dean opposed the motion in February 2014, arguing that “adequate and/or meaningful discovery” had not yet taken place and a hearing would be premature. He asked for a continuance. The court denied Dean’s motion for continuance and granted State Farm’s motion for partial summary judgment.
In August 2015, Dean filed a motion to prohibit any mention at trial of, among other things, any benefits he might have received from a collateral source, and of the fact that he settled with Progressive for “its insured’s liability policy limits in exchange for a limited release.” The court held a hearing on Dean’s motion and on several other motions on August 20, 2015, and denied Dean’s motion.
At trial in February 2016, Dean offered medical records and bills totaling $24,119.90 and photos of the damaged Lexus. State Farm offered a copy of its UM policy, two medical depositions, and a copy of the settlement.
By post-trial brief, State Farm argued that Dean failed to prove that McKellar was an uninsured motorist as required by law. Dean moved to strike State Farm’s brief, arguing that McKellar’s UM status was proved by the allegations of Dean’s petition. After a hearing, the court denied Dean’s motion to strike.
On June 3, 2016, the court filed reasons for judgment finding that Dean had offered no evidence to establish a prima facie case that McKellar was an uninsured motorist. The court rendered a final judgment dismissing Dean’s claims, with each party to bear its own costs. Dean appealed.
On appeal, Dean argued that the trial court erred in finding the evidence of UM status to be insufficient to carry his burden of proof on the issue. The appellate court noted that no persuasive evidence was found in the record and upheld the trial court’s ruling. The court found further that Dean failed to submit any admissible evidence to prove that McKellar was an uninsured motorist. The court also upheld the trial court’s grant of partial summary judgment in favor of State Farm on the bad faith adjusting issue. The court ordered that judgment be rendered in favor of State Farm and against the Deans, dismissing all their claims with prejudice with each side to bear its own costs.
Dean vs. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company-Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Second Circuit-April 5, 2017- No. 51,243–CA.