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Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Rockefeller

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

September 29, 2017

GEORGIA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
ROCKEFELLER.

          McFADDEN, P. J., BRANCH and BETHEL, JJ.

          BETHEL, JUDGE.

         Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company ("Georgia Farm Bureau") appeals from the trial court's denial of its motion for summary judgment and the court's grant of partial summary judgment in favor of Jerry Rockefeller. Georgia Farm Bureau argues that the trial court misapplied OCGA § 33-7-11 (i) with regard to the limitation of liability provision in the uninsured motorist ("UM") insurance policies that Rockefeller holds with Georgia Farm Bureau. However, because we agree with the trial court's interpretation of the statute and its application to the facts of this case, we affirm.

         Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. OCGA § 9-11-56(c). We review a trial court's decision on a motion for summary judgment de novo and construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Home Builders Ass'n of Savannah, Inc. v. Chatham Cty., 276 Ga. 243, 245 (1) (577 S.E.2d 564) (2003).

         The material facts of this case are undisputed. Rockefeller was involved in a two-car auto accident from which he sustained injuries. He filed suit against the driver of the other vehicle. Georgia Farm Bureau, the insurer who provided UM insurance coverage to Rockefeller, was not named in the suit but was served with a copy of Rockefeller's complaint pursuant to OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) after Rockefeller determined that the other driver was likely underinsured.[1]

         The other driver's insurer paid $25, 000 to Rockefeller in settlement of his claim against the driver. Additionally, because Rockefeller was working at the time of the accident, he received workers' compensation benefits totaling $197, 966.55 for his injuries. However, because his ongoing workers' compensation award provided a weekly amount that was less than the wages he was earning at the time of the accident, he accumulated $183, 022.38 in lost wages for which he was not compensated. Rockefeller did not receive any compensation for past and future pain and suffering or future medical expenses either through his workers' compensation award or through his settlement with the other driver.[2]

         Because the other driver did not have sufficient insurance coverage to pay for Rockefeller's remaining damages, Rockefeller sought additional compensation under four UM policies he held with Georgia Farm Bureau that were in effect at the time of the accident. Each policy provided up to $25, 000 in UM benefits for a combined policy limit of $100, 000. Each of the UM policies contained a "limit of liability" clause which provided, in relevant part, that

The limit of liability . . . for this coverage is our maximum limit of liability for all damages resulting from any one accident. . . . The limit of liability shall be reduced by all sums . . . [p]aid or payable because of . . . bodily injury under any . . . Worker's Compensation law . . .

         On the basis of this provision, Georgia Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment on Rockefeller's claims, arguing that because the amount of workers' compensation benefits Rockefeller received exceeded the combined coverage limits of his UM policies, Georgia Farm Bureau's liability to Rockefeller under the UM policies was reduced to zero. Rockefeller, in turn, filed his own motion for partial summary judgment, arguing that his UM policies should cover up to $100, 000 of his uncompensated damages, including lost wages, damages for past and future pain and suffering, and future medical expenses that were not covered by his settlement with the other driver's insurer or his workers' compensation award. Following a hearing, the trial court denied Georgia Farm Bureau's motion for summary judgment and granted Rockefeller's motion for partial summary judgment. This appeal followed.

         OCGA § 33-7-11 (i) provides, in part, that

In addition to any offsets or reductions contained in the provisions of division (b)(1)(D)(ii) of [OCGA § 33-7-11], an endorsement or the provisions of the policy providing [UM coverage] . . . may contain provisions which exclude any liability of the insurer for personal or bodily injury or death for which the insured has been . . . compensated pursuant to workers' compensation laws.

         Georgia Farm Bureau argues that this statute and the limit of liability provision in the UM policies allow it to offset the entirety of Rockefeller's workers' compensation award-$197, 966.55-against its combined liability of $100, 000 under Rockefeller's four UM policies, thus reducing Georgia Farm Bureau's liability to zero. We disagree with that reading of the statute and agree with the trial court that this provision of the UM statute does not permit the dollar-for-dollar reduction in the limits of Rockefeller's policies that Georgia Farm Bureau argues for in this case. Rather, Georgia Farm Bureau is liable up to the $100, 000 combined coverage limit of Rockefeller's four UM policies for losses he sustained in the accident that were not covered by his workers' compensation award or his settlement with the other driver's insurer.

         The text of OCGA § 33-7-11 (i) only permits the exclusion of a UM insurer's liability for damages "for which the insured has been . . . compensated." In this case, if Rockefeller's total damages were equal to the combined amount of his workers' compensation award and the settlement he received from the other driver's insurer, Georgia Farm Bureau would have no liability because Rockefeller would have been fully compensated for all damages he sustained. But that is not the case before us.

         Here, Rockefeller made claims against his UM policy for additional damages that were not covered by his workers' compensation award and his settlement with the other driver's insurer, including additional lost wages of $183, 022.38 and an unspecified amount of damages for past and future pain and suffering and future medical expenses resulting from the accident. Georgia Farm Bureau does not suggest that Rockefeller ...


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