United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM E. SMITH, CHIEF JUDGE
a dispute between the victim of a hit-and-run automobile
accident, John Vittorioso, and his employer's automobile
insurer, ACE American Insurance Company (“ACE”).
The parties seek to adjudicate one issue: the uninsured
motorists (“UM”) coverage limit under the
applicable insurance policy (the “Policy”) that
ACE issued to the employer. Magistrate Judge Lincoln D.
Almond issued a Report & Recommendation
(“R&R”) (ECF No. 80) on the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, recommending that the
Court grant Plaintiff's motion solely as to the amount of
available UM coverage and that ACE's motion be denied.
ACE timely objected, arguing that the R&R misinterpreted
Rhode Island Law when it determined the Policy's UM
coverage limit. (ECF No. 84.) For the reasons that follow,
the objection is OVERRULED and the R&R is ACCEPTED
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
R&R thoroughly recounts the underlying facts, and they
need not be repeated in detail here. Briefly, on October 2,
2012, Plaintiff was injured in a hit-and-run automobile
accident while driving a vehicle leased to Aramark,
Plaintiff's employer. When Plaintiff submitted a claim to
recover for bodily injuries under Aramark's Policy, ACE
indicated that Aramark's UM coverage limit - the coverage
implicated in Plaintiff's claim - was $25, 000, the
minimum amount required under Rhode Island law. Although this
is the limit stated in the Policy, Plaintiff challenges it.
Pointing to the UM Coverage Selection Form Aramark completed
in September 2012 - which stated that the UM coverage should
be the same as the bodily injury (“BI”) coverage
- Plaintiff argues that the UM coverage limit is $2, 000,
000. ACE disavows this Coverage Selection Form because
Aramark allegedly completed it in error. According to ACE,
Aramark actually wanted to contract for the lowest amount of
UM coverage permissible under Rhode Island Law.
R&R recommended reforming the Policy to reflect the UM
coverage Aramark selected in the UM Coverage Selection Form.
It started by analyzing R.I. Gen. Laws § 27-7-2.1(a) and
the regulations interpreting it that were in effect at the
time. Section 27-7-2.1(a) requires insurers to provide UM
coverage at the insured's bodily injury
(“BI”) limit unless the insured selects a
different limit in writing. See R.I. Gen. Laws
§ 27-7-2.1(a). The regulations then in force went on to
specify that if an insured wanted to elect UM coverage less
than the BI limits, it had to do so on a form utilized for
that purpose. See R.I. Dep. of Bus. Reg. Ins. Reg.
10 (attached as Ex. F to Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for
Summ. J., ECF No. 58-6). Relying on this writing requirement,
the R&R concluded that it must give legal significance to
Aramark's selection in the Coverage Selection Form.
According to the R&R, if Aramark's selection was in
error, “it is not an onerous burden” for ACE to
have (1) read the form, and (2) sought clarification or
confirmation from Aramark about the amount of UM coverage it
wanted prior to issuing the policy. (See R&R
9-10, ECF No. 80.)
strongly disagrees that the Court is bound by Aramark's
Coverage Selection Form. Relying heavily on Carpenter v.
Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 990 F.Supp.2d 180 (D.R.I. 2014),
it argues that the R&R should have overlooked the Form
and deferred to Aramark's intent, which was to purchase
the minimum amount of UM coverage allowed under Rhode Island
principles of statutory and contract construction provide
useful background for ruling on this Objection. First, the
Rhode Island Supreme Court has stated that when a
statute's meaning is less than clear, a court's
“task is to establish and effectuate the intent of the
Legislature.” Ferreira v. Integon Nat. Ins.
Co., 809 A.2d 1098, 1100 (R.I. 2002) (quoting R
& R Assocs. v. City of Providence Water Supply Bd.,
765 A.2d 432, 436 (R.I. 2001). However, “[i]f a
statutory provision is clear and unambiguous, ‘there is
no room for statutory construction and we must apply the
statute as written.'” Id. (quoting
Cummings v. Shorey, 761 A.2d 680, 684 (R.I. 2000).
Second, specifically as to Rhode Island's UM statute,
while the legislature intended the statute to “afford
insurers some financial protection from unwarranted claims,
” the “primary object remains indemnification for
an insured's loss rather than defeat of his or her
claim.” American States Ins. Co. v. LaFlam, 69
A.3d 831, 835 (R.I. 2013). Finally, if insurance policies do
not conform to a statute's requirements - including the
statute's notice requirements - “the language of
the policy will be disregarded and the contract will be
construed to conform to the statute.” Fama v.
Prudential Prop. & Cas. Ins. Co., 694 A.2d 741, 742
(R.I. 1997) (quoting VanMarter v. Royal Indem. Co.,
556 A.2d 41, 44 (R.I. 1989)).
R&R recognized, the terms of § 27-7-2.1(a) are
clear: (1) by default, insurers must provide their customers
with UM coverage equal to a policy's BI limit; (2) an
insured may contract for UM coverage below this default
coverage by indicating an alternative level of coverage in
writing on a form provided for that purpose; but, in any
event, (3) the UM BI coverage cannot be less than a $25,
000/$50, 000 split. Here, Aramark and ACE complied with these
statutory requirements. Aramark submitted what, by ACE's
own admission, is the Policy's UM Coverage Selection
Form. This form, which meets the statutory requirements,
unambiguously indicates that Aramark wanted coverage equal to
its BI limits. So, Aramark selected a lawfully permissible
level of coverage, on the statutorily required form, all in
perfect compliance with the statute. Pursuant to the statute,
the Policy should have contained this level of UM coverage.
Since it does not, the Court is obligated, under clear Rhode
Island precedent, to reform the Policy.
course, objects to this result and urges the Court to look
past the UM Coverage Selection Form to extrinsic evidence of
the parties' intent. As Carpenter and the case
on which it relied, daSilva v. Equitable Fire &
Marine Insurance Co., 263 A.2d 100 (R.I. 1970), hold,
there are certain circumstances when this approach is
appropriate. See Carpenter, 990 F.Supp.2d at 189-93.
However, the rule articulated in these cases is quite narrow,
requiring two explicit conditions to be met: (1) that the
coverage selection form unambiguously expresses the
parties' intent; and (2) but for a technical error on the
form, the form would comply with § 27-7-2.1(a). See
id. at 191-93 (giving effect to a UM selection form
where the insured's mistaken, unlawful selection on the
form - selecting no UM coverage rather than the minimum
coverage permissible under law - opened the door to
considering the insured's intent, which the parties
agreed was to contract for the minimum amount of coverage
permissible under Rhode Island law); daSilva, 263
A.2d at 102-03 (overlooking technical imperfections in the
insured's written rejection of UM coverage where the
writing unambiguously indicated the insured's intent).
facts here do not satisfy these conditions. As noted above
and in the R&R, Aramark's UM Coverage Selection Form
was unambiguous; it indicated Aramark wanted UM coverage
equal to the Policy's BI limits. The Form, thus, complies
with § 27-7-2.1(a)'s writing requirement and is not
technically deficient. Consequently, unlike in
Carpenter and daSilva, the Court has no
reason to consider Aramark and ACE's intent. If, as ACE
now claims, Aramark chose the wrong level of coverage in the
Form, it should have read the Form and sought to correct it
prior to issuing Aramark the insurance
contract. The law does not allow ACE to choose when
to give effect to the Form and when not to.III. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, ACE's objection is OVERRULED
and the Report and Recommendation is ACCEPTED pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Judgment (ECF No. 54) is GRANTED as to Count I solely as it
relates to the amount of available UM BI coverage.
Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 34) is
DENIED. This matter shall be placed on the next trial
calendar for trial on Count I.