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Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. v. Claxton

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Third Division

April 2, 2018

GEORGIA FARM BUREAU MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
CLAXTON et al.

          ELLINGTON, P. J., BETHEL, J., and SENIOR APPELLATE JUDGE PHIPPS

          Bethel, Judge.

         Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company ("Georgia Farm Bureau") brings this interlocutory appeal from the trial court's denial of its motions for summary judgment in a declaratory judgment action it filed against Dena Claxton and Carl Lowery. Claxton and Lowery, both of whom hold insurance policies issued by Georgia Farm Bureau, were involved in a motor vehicle accident and sought coverage under their respective policies. Georgia Farm Bureau sought declaratory relief, claiming that there is no coverage available to Lowery and Claxton under their respective policies given the circumstances of the accident. Georgia Farm Bureau moved for summary judgment as to its coverage obligations on both claims, which the trial court denied. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm in part and reverse in part.

Summary judgment is proper if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law[.] Summary judgments enjoy no presumption of correctness on appeal, and an appellate court must satisfy itself de novo that the requirements of OCGA § 9-11-56 (c) have been met. In our de novo review of the grant of a motion for summary judgment, we must view the evidence, and all reasonable inferences drawn therefrom, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.

Cowart v. Widener, 287 Ga. 622, 623-24 (1) (a) (697 S.E.2d 779) (2010) (citations and punctuation omitted); OCGA § 9-11-56 (c).

         So viewed, the largely undisputed record before us reflects that Lowery was operating a mule-drawn carriage in a Christmas parade organized by the City of McRae. Claxton was riding in the carriage. After the parade had ended, Lowery and Claxton were riding the carriage back to Lowery's motor vehicle when the carriage was struck in the rear by a motor vehicle operated by a third party, resulting in injuries to Claxton.

         In his deposition, Lowery stated that the carriage he was driving was designed to be pulled by one horse or mule. He further stated that the carriage was designed to only be pulled by an animal and could not be hooked up to a motor vehicle. The carriage was being pulled by a mule during the parade and at the time of the accident. Lowery did not charge Claxton a fee to ride in the carriage.

         Following the accident, Claxton filed suit against Lowery.[1] In that action, which is separate from this case, she sought damages from Lowery arising out of the accident.

         Lowery holds a liability insurance policy with Georgia Farm Bureau, which he claims covers any liability he may have for Claxton's injuries. In the same action, Claxton also claims that two uninsured motorist ("UM") policies she holds with Georgia Farm Bureau also provide coverage for her injuries arising from the accident.

         The liability policy issued to Lowery contains an exclusion that Georgia Farm Bureau claims shields it from liability under the insurance contract. The exclusion provides that the policy "does not apply to . . . [t]he use of any livestock or other animal, with or without an accessory vehicle, for providing rides to any person for a fee or in connection with or during a fair, charitable function, or similar type of event[.]" The policy defines "livestock" to include mules.

         The UM policies issued to Claxton define "uninsured motor vehicle" to mean a "land motor vehicle or trailer of any type." The policy defines "trailer" to mean a "vehicle designed to be pulled by a . . . [p]rivate passenger auto [or] [p]ickup or van."

         In its declaratory judgment action, Georgia Farm Bureau filed a motion for summary judgment, seeking a declaration (a) that the livestock exclusion in Lowery's policy applied and (b) that the carriage which Claxton was riding in was not an uninsured motor vehicle under the terms of Claxton's UM policies. The trial court denied the motion as to both issues. Georgia Farm Bureau sought a certificate of immediate review, which the trial court issued. It then filed an application for interlocutory review, which this Court granted. This appeal followed.

         1.Georgia Farm Bureau first argues that the trial court erred by denying its motion for summary judgment with regard to its claim that the exclusion for livestock in Lowery's policy applies and that Georgia Farm Bureau has no liability to him under his policy. We agree with the trial court that summary judgment is not appropriate on this issue, but not for the reasons stated by the trial court.

          The trial court's order focused specifically on the phrase "for a fee, " determining that because neither Claxton or any other party had paid Lowery a fee to drive the carriage the exclusion did not apply. The trial court's order states that the policy excludes coverage where the insured provides rides "for a fee in connection with or during a fair, charitable function or similar type of event." However, the trial court's order misstates this clause in the policy by omitting the word "or." The actual terms of the policy provide an exclusion where the insured provides rides "for a fee or in connection with or during a fair, charitable function or similar type of event." ...


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