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Peden v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 16, 2019

WENDY L. PEDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          LEWIS T. BABCOCK, JUDGE

         This matter is before me on Plaintiff's Motion for a New Trial, filed by Wendy L. Peden pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A). [Doc #195] Defendant, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”) has filed its Response [Doc #197] and Plaintiff filed her reply. [Doc # 200] Oral arguments would not materially assist me in my determination. After consideration of the parties' briefs, for the reason stated, I DENY Plaintiff's motion seeking a new trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff and three other passengers were injured when the 1962 Volkswagen van they were riding in was involved in a single car accident. Plaintiff's claims against the at-fault driver for bodily liability coverage were settled by State Farm. Because Plaintiff believed that the amount of her compensatory damages exceeded the liability settlement, she submitted a claim to State Farm pursuant to the available under-insured motorists (“UIM”) coverage of $350, 000, by sending State Farm a demand letter dated December 30, 2013. State Farm evaluated her UIM claim, and sent a response on February 27, 2014, indicating that it concluded that Plaintiff was fully compensated for the injuries and damages she sustained via the liability benefits previously paid. Following State Farm's decision that she was not entitled to UIM benefits in February of 2014, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit asserting claims for: 1) Breach of the Insurance Contract; 2) Common Law Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing; and 3) Violation of Colorado Revised Statutes §10-3-1115 and §10-3-1116 (Unreasonable Delay or Denial of Benefits).

         After Plaintiff filed this lawsuit, State Farm re-evaluated Plaintiff's UIM claim and made an offer of settlement in the amount of $179, 660.01 on February 27, 2015. Then, on May 15, 2015, State Farm paid Plaintiff the remaining $170, 339.99. As such, State Farm paid Plaintiff $350, 000, which constituted the full amount of the UIM benefits available.

         On September 9, 2015, I granted State Farm's Motion for Summary Judgment. [Doc #72] Plaintiff appealed and, on November 15, 2016, the Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded. Peden v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 841 F.3d 887 (2016). The Tenth Circuit ruled that genuine issues of material facts existed as to whether State Farm adequately investigated whether Plaintiff knew that the at-fault driver was drunk and planning to drive (assumed the risk), and whether State Farm reasonably investigated the damages Plaintiff could obtain against the at- fault driver (adequately investigated his liability to her). Id. at 891-92. The Tenth Circuit also indicated that a genuine issue of material fact existed as to “the reasonableness of State Farm's initial refusal to pay anything for future non-economic damages or future wage loss.” Id. at 894.

         Following remand, I dismissed Plaintiff's Breach of Contract claim on April 20, 2017. [Doc #96] And, on November 6, 2017, I dismissed Plaintiff's Bad Faith Breach of Contract Claim upon her Stipulation for Dismissal. [Doc #120] As a result, Plaintiff's remaining claim for Unreasonable Delay or Denial of Benefits, in violation of §10-3-1115 and §10-3-1116, was tried to a jury starting on October 22, 2018.

         At trial Plaintiff argued that State Farm unreasonably denied or delayed paying her the UIM benefits that were available and owed to her. The jury was instructed that for Ms. Peden to recover, it must find one or both of the following was proved by a preponderance of the evidence:

1. State Farm denied payment of UIM benefits to Ms. Peden and that denial of payment was without a reasonable basis; or
2. State Farm delayed payment of UIM benefits to Ms. Peden and that delay of payment was without a reasonable basis.

         As a result, the Special Verdict Form provided to the jury asked them to determine: 1) whether State Farm denied payment to Plaintiff of any part of her covered UIM benefits (and, if so, was that denial of payment without a reasonable basis) and 2) whether State Farm delayed payment to Plaintiff of any part of her covered UIM benefits (and, if so, was that delay of payment without a reasonable basis). [Doc #185] After deliberation, the jury found that State Farm did not deny or delay payment to Plaintiff of any part of her UIM benefits and, as such, the jury did not reach the question of whether the denial or delay of payment was with or without a reasonable basis. [Doc #191] I subsequently entered final judgment in favor of State Farm on October 29, 2018. [Doc #192]

         Plaintiff has now filed this Motion for New Trial in which she claims that the jury's factual determination that State Farm neither denied nor delayed paying Plaintiff any part of her UIM benefits was irreconcilable with the weight of the evidence presented at trial. Plaintiff argues that while the reasonableness of State Farm's payments was a determination that was subject to dispute, the threshold questions of whether State Farm either denied or delayed paying Plaintiff was “decidedly against the weight of the evidence.” As a result, Plaintiff argues that she is entitled to a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1)(A). [Doc #195]

         State Farm, in response, argues that the evidence presented at trial, although often disputed, was sufficient to allow the jury to conclude that State Farm's claims handling did not constitute either a delay or denial of payment to Plaintiff of her covered UIM benefits.

         II. ...


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