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Smith v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division I

January 12, 2017

Neill Smith and Bliss Bishop, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, an Illinois corporation, Defendant-Appellee.

         City and County of Denver District Court No. 15CV32100 Honorable Elizabeth A. Starrs, Judge

         JUDGMENT REVERSED AND CASE REMANDED WITH DIRECTIONS

          Franklin D. Azar & Associates, William C. Marlin, Peter J. McCaffrey, Aurora, Colorado, for Plaintiffs-Appellants

          Patterson & Salg, P.C., Franklin D. Patterson, Karl S. Chambers, Greenwood Village, Colorado, for Defendant-Appellee

          OPINION

          DUNN JUDGE.

         ¶ 1 Neill Smith suffered serious injuries when he was skewered by hay spears attached to a farm tractor driven by Robert Bunker. The district court dismissed the complaint he and his wife, Bliss Bishop, filed against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, concluding that the tractor was not a covered motor vehicle under their State Farm insurance policy.[1] Mr. Smith now asks us to undo that ruling. The question before us then is whether State Farm's underinsured motorist (UIM) provision provides coverage to Mr. Smith for bodily injury sustained in an automobile accident with a farm tractor. We conclude that it does, and so we reverse the judgment dismissing the complaint and remand the case for further proceedings.

         I. Background

         ¶ 2 It happened on a county road in Moffat, Colorado. Mr. Bunker was driving a John Deere tractor (the tractor) when he collided with Mr. Smith's truck. The hay spears attached to the tractor pierced the truck and impaled Mr. Smith, leaving him seriously injured. Mr. Bunker later pleaded guilty to careless driving. Mr. Smith settled his claim against Mr. Bunker for Mr. Bunker's liability policy limits. This amount, however, did not fully compensate Mr. Smith for his injuries, according to Mr. Smith.

         ¶ 3 But Mr. Smith had UIM coverage with State Farm. So, he filed a claim with State Farm for UIM benefits. Taking the position that a farm tractor is not a motor vehicle, State Farm denied coverage.

         ¶ 4 Unsurprisingly, Mr. Smith sued State Farm, asserting claims for breach of contract, bad faith breach of an insurance contract, and improper denial of an insurance claim. State Farm moved the court to determine as a matter of law that the tractor is not a motor vehicle under the policy's UIM coverage provision. The court granted the motion, finding that the tractor "is not a covered motor vehicle for purposes of . . . [the] UIM coverage policy." It then dismissed the complaint.

         II. Standard of Review and Principles of Interpretation

         ¶ 5 We review de novo a district court's order determining a question of law under C.R.C.P. 56(h). Patterson v. BP Am. Prod. Co., 2015 COA 28, ¶ 20. The interpretation of an insurance policy is also reviewed de novo. Grippin v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 2016 COA 127, ¶ 9.

         ¶ 6 An insurance policy is a contract, and it is interpreted like any contract. Allstate Ins. Co. v. Huizar, 52 P.3d 816, 819 (Colo. 2002). This means it is our job to determine and give effect to the parties' intent, "and, when possible, the parties' intent should be determined by the language of the policy alone." Mt. Hawley Ins. Co. v. Casson Duncan Constr., Inc., 2016 COA 164, ¶ 12.

         ¶ 7 Unless defined, we give a policy's words their plain meaning and construe the terms "as they would be understood by a person of ordinary intelligence." State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Nissen, 851 P.2d 165, 167 (Colo. 1993); see also Huizar, 52 P.3d at 819. We will enforce the policy as written, unless there is an ambiguity in the policy language. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Stein, 940 P.2d 384, 387 (Colo. 1997). A term in an insurance policy is ambiguous if, on its face, it is susceptible of more than one reasonable interpretation. Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hansen, 2016 CO 46, ΒΆ 24. If ...


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