Dooley v. Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co., No. 12-1882

Decided: May 16, 2013

The Fourth Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia concerning an insured party’s ability to stack Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (“UM/UIM”) coverage. The district court’s decision that Petitioner Dooley’s 2008 policy prohibited him from stacking the UM/UIM coverage for each insured vehicle was not error.  Accordingly, the Court held Dooley was not entitled to recover from Hartford under the policy’s UM/UIM coverage.

Dooley initially obtained automobile insurance from Hartford in 2003 and paid two separate premiums for coverage of his two vehicles.  He later added a third vehicle and renewed his policy in 2008.  While the 2008 policy was in effect, Dooley was severely injured in an automobile accident while driving a vehicle insured under the policy. As a result of this collision with Wilmer Phillips, he incurred medical and related expenses that exceeded the liability coverage provided under Phillips’ automobile insurance policy. He contended that Phillips was an underinsured motorist within the meaning of Virginia’s statute and sought payment from Hartford based on the UM/UIM provision in his 2008 policy.  The UM/UIM endorsement did not state the amount of UM/UIM coverage available but simply referred the reader to the “Declarations” section of the policy, which likewise did not contain any specified amount of such coverage. Despite this complete omission of any stated coverage limits, Hartford agreed that it remained obligated under Virginia Code § 38.2-2206(A) to provide UM/UIM coverage “equal” to the policy’s general liability limits.  However, based on the anti-stacking clause of the policy, Hartford maintained that the limit for UM/UIM coverage for each person was $100,000.

The issue before the court ultimately was reduced to whether the anti-stacking clause prevented Dooley from stacking the UM/UIM coverage of $100,000 per person provided in the policy for each of the three insured vehicles.  Dooley maintained that the omissions on the declarations page of any stated amount of UM/UIM coverage rendered the anti-stacking provision ambiguous and unenforceable. As such, he alleged that he was entitled to coverage of $100,000 for each of the three covered vehicles, for a total amount of up to $300,000.  The court was not persuaded.  Relying on established principles of insurance policy interpretation and Virginia Supreme Court precedent, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that the fact that the amount of UM/UIM coverage was not separately “shown in the declarations” section of the 2008 policy was not determinative.  Because Virginia Code § 38.2-2206(A) mandated that UM/UIM coverage “shall equal” the general liability coverage, the provision by operation of law provided Dooley an equal amount of UM/UIM coverage under the Hartford policy. Accordingly, the anti-stacking provision in Dooley’s policy unambiguously prevented the stacking of UM/UIM coverage, leading the court to affirm the district court’s award of summary judgment in favor of Hartford.

Full Opinion

-Kara S. Grevey

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