An insurer represented by Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge attorneys Dennis Brown, Julia Ulrich and John Hughes was recently granted summary judgment by the Connecticut Superior Court based on an insurance policy’s provision defining “uninsured motor vehicle” as not including any vehicle owned by a self-insurer. Odena v. Elrac, Inc. et al., No. CV 06-5002447 (Conn. Super. April 2, 2009).
The plaintiff was a passenger in a taxi cab involved in an accident with a vehicle owned by a rental car company. The rental car company was self-insured, and denied coverage with regard to the accident because the renter alleged that an unknown and therefore “unauthorized” driver was operating the rental vehicle at the time of the accident. Plaintiff thereafter filed a lawsuit against, among others, the rental company, the renter, and the insurer of the taxi cab for uninsured motorist benefits. The rental car company was dismissed from the lawsuit based on 49 U.S.C. §30106, which prevents rental car companies from being held liable for motor vehicle accidents by reason of being the owner of the vehicle in the absence of any negligence by the rental car company.
The insurer for the taxi cab moved for summary judgment on the ground that the policy’s definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” does not include vehicles owned by a self-insurer. The plaintiff did not dispute that the rental company owned the other vehicle involved in the accident, nor did plaintiff dispute that the rental company was self-insured. Rather, the plaintiff argued against summary judgment on the basis that uninsured motorist coverage is mandated by statute, and an insurer cannot limit otherwise-mandated uninsured motorist coverage by labeling a forbidden exclusion as a definitional limitation. The plaintiff also argued that, since the rental company had no legal responsibility to him for the negligence of its renter, public policy dictated that uninsured motorist insurance should be triggered.
The court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer. The court held that the Connecticut insurance regulations explicitly allow auto insurers to exclude self-insured vehicles from the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle”. Therefore, the insurer was not arguing for the application of a “forbidden exclusion.” The court further held that the plaintiff was not making his public policy argument in the proper forum (i.e., the legislature) when the terms of the insurance policy were clear and conformed to the applicable law and regulation. Finally, the court noted that the plaintiff submitted no affidavit to controvert any of the facts asserted by the insurer, and there were no material unresolved facts in dispute.