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Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool v. DuBose

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Second Division

March 7, 2019

GEORGIA INSURERS INSOLVENCY POOL
v.
DUBOSE. DUBOSE
v.
GEORGIA INSURERS INSOLVENCY POOL.

          MILLER, P. J., BROWN and GOSS, JJ.

          Goss, Judge.

         After she was injured in an automobile collision while in the scope of her employment, Carla DuBose filed for workers' compensation benefits. After her employer's workers' compensation insurer became insolvent, the Georgia Insurers Insolvency Pool (the "Pool") took over her claim. The Pool then filed the instant declaratory judgment action asking the trial court to declare that the exhaustion provision of the Georgia Insurer's Insolvency Pool Act (the "Pool Act"), OCGA § 33-36-14, required that any proceeds that DuBose received from other solvent insurance carriers (including settlements from the automobile liability insurance for the other driver and her own uninsured/underinsured policies, as well as benefits received under her disability policy) should reduce her claim against the Pool by the full amounts received. The trial court denied the Pool's motion for summary judgment, holding that OCGA § 33-36-14 (a) limited "the offset to money recovered for lost wages and medical expenses - 'claims' that could be made under the workers' comp[ensation] statute[.]" The trial court further held that an issue of fact existed as to the purpose of the insurance proceeds DuBose had already received. We granted the parties' cross-motions for interlocutory appeal.

         In Case No. A18A1531, the Pool appeals from the trial court's order, arguing that the Pool is entitled to offset any money recovered by DuBose under policies of solvent insurers. The Pool argues, alternatively, that the trial court erred in concluding that a fact issue precluded summary judgment. In Case No. A18A1532, DuBose filed a cross-appeal, contending that the trial court erred to the extent that the Pool is entitled to any offset from proceeds she received from other insurers. Because we conclude that the language of the Pool Act's exhaustion provision at OCGA § 33-36-14 (a) does not require solvent and insolvent carriers provide identical coverage, we reverse the trial court's denial of the Pool's motion for summary judgment in part, vacate it in part and remand the case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing the grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment, we apply a de novo standard of review, and we view the evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.

(Footnote omitted.) Grizzle v. Norsworthy, 292 Ga.App. 303, 303-304 (664 S.E.2d 296) (2008).

         The relevant facts are not in dispute. This case arose from a motor vehicle collision on June 20, 2014, between Carla DuBose and Kimberly Dyar. DuBose was injured when her vehicle was struck by a vehicle driven by Dyar.

         At the time of the collision, DuBose was employed by Compassionate Care Hospice ("Compassionate") and she was working within the course and scope of her employment. DuBose then filed a claim with the State Board of Workers' Compensation. Compassionate had a workers' compensation policy issued by Lumberman's Underwriting Alliance ("Lumberman's"). On May 23, 2016, Lumberman's was placed into liquidation, with all of its Georgia claims transferred to the Pool by the liquidator, and the Pool undertook responsibility for the administration of Lumberman's claims. These claims included DuBose's workers' compensation claim.

         DuBose also filed a claim against Dyar, the driver responsible for the collision. Dyar was insured by Geico Insurance Company ("Geico"). On December 17, 2014, DuBose settled with Geico for the automobile liability insurance policy limits of $250, 000.

         At the time of the collision, DuBose had additional insurance under two uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage policies and two personal disability policies issued by State Farm Insurance Company ("State Farm"). DuBose settled with State Farm for $200, 000 under the uninsured/underinsured motorist carrier policies. State Farm denied her coverage as to one of the disability policies; however, she is receiving $540 per month for up to 58 months under the other personal disability policy.[1]

         Case No. A18A1531

         1. In A18A1531, the Pool argues that the trial court erred by limiting the offset rights of the Pool under OCGA § 33-36-14 to amounts received by DuBose specific to lost wages and medical expenses. The Pool claims that its obligations do not arise unless and until the amounts owed under the workers' compensation claim exceed the amount paid out by all other solvent insurers, regardless of what coverage was provided by the solvent policies. Because we conclude that OCGA § 33-36-14 (a) does not require the policies of the solvent and insolvent carriers to provide identical coverage and the Pool is entitled to offset the amounts recovered from the Geico automobile liability policy and the State Farm uninsured/underinsured motorist policies, we reverse the trial court's denial of the Pool's motion for summary judgment in part.

         At the outset, we note that the interpretation of a statute is a question of law, which this Court "review[s] de novo on appeal." (Punctuation omitted.) Brantley Land & Timber, LLC v. W&D Investments, Inc., 316 Ga.App. 277, 279 (729 S.E.2d 458) (2012). When interpreting any statute, we begin our analysis with "familiar and binding canons of construction." Holcomb v. Long, 329 Ga.App. 515, 517 (1) (765 S.E.2d 687) (2014). In considering the meaning of a statute, our charge as an appellate court is to "presume that the General Assembly meant what it said and said what it meant." (Punctuation and footnote omitted.) Id. Accordingly,

we must afford the statutory text its plain and ordinary meaning, consider the text contextually, read the text in its most natural and reasonable way, as an ordinary speaker in the English language would, and seek to avoid a construction that makes some language mere surplusage.

(Punctuation and footnotes omitted.) Harris v. Mahone, 340 Ga.App. 415, 417-418 (1) (797 S.E.2d 688) (2017). Accord Oxendine v. Comm'r of Ins. of N. C., 229 Ga.App. 604, ...


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