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Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. v. Dias

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

January 6, 2017

Progressive Casualty Insurance Co.
James S. Dias et al.

         Providence County No. (PC 13-4560) Superior Court Richard A. Licht, Associate Justice

          For Plaintiff: Gregory A. Carrara, Esq. Hillary J. Giles, Esq.

          For Defendants: Richard I. Abrams, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.


          Francis X. Flaherty, Associate Justice

         We are called upon to determine the meaning of the term "same insurance company" under G.L. 1956 § 27-7-2.1(i). The defendants, James S. Dias and Sarina M. Dunham, appeal from the Superior Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff, Progressive Casualty Insurance Co. Dias suffered serious injuries in a motorcycle accident and sought to recover underinsured-motorist benefits from the plaintiff, asserting that he was entitled to those benefits pursuant to § 27-7-2.1(i). On appeal, the defendants argue that summary judgment was granted in error because material issues of fact remained in dispute. Moreover, the defendants contend that the hearing justice incorrectly determined that the plaintiff and another company, Progressive Northern Insurance Co., are not the same insurance company for the purposes of applying § 27-7-2.1(i).

         This case came before us for oral argument on November 30, 2016. After carefully considering the record, the parties' written and oral arguments, as well as the thoughtful brief of the amicus, [1] we affirm the Superior Court's ruling.


         Facts and Travel

         On September 22, 2012, Dias was seriously injured when a car struck him while he was operating a motorcycle that was registered to his wife, Dunham. At the time of the accident, defendants were insured under two policies issued by companies bearing the "Progressive" label. One policy, which Progressive Northern underwrote, covered the motorcycle that defendant was operating when he was injured. The second policy, underwritten by plaintiff, Progressive Casualty, covered defendants' automobiles. After the accident, Dias settled a bodily injury claim for the tortfeasor's automobile insurance policy limit. Because the amount of that settlement was less than the reasonable amount required to compensate him for his injuries, Dias then made and settled an uninsured-motorist claim against Progressive Northern, also for the policy limit.

         However, believing himself to be entitled to further compensation because of the extent of his injuries, Dias then filed a claim with plaintiff for underinsured-motorist benefits under the terms of their automobile policy.[2] The plaintiff denied coverage, asserting that the automobile policy did not provide coverage for the injuries Dias sustained while he was riding the motorcycle because the insurance contract contained an "owned-but-not-insured clause"[3] that barred recovery. The defendants do not contest the clarity of this exclusion. Instead, they argue that, because they had two separate policies with Progressive labeled insurance companies, plaintiff must cover Dias' injuries and that the owned-but-not-insured clause is preempted by § 27-7-2.1(i). That statute mandates that, when an insured has multiple uninsured/underinsured policies "with the same insurance company, the insured shall be permitted to collect up to the aggregate amount of coverage for all the vehicles insured, regardless of any language in the policy to the contrary." Id. The defendants maintain that plaintiff, Progressive Casualty, and Progressive Northern are each part of the same company: The Progressive Corporation.

         In response to the claim that Dias brought against it under the policy, plaintiff filed a declaratory-judgment action, requesting that the Superior Court declare that § 27-7-2.1(i) is not applicable because "Progressive Northern Insurance Co. is a completely separate and distinct corporation and business entity from [plaintiff, ] Progressive Casualty Insurance Co., " and that, consequently, plaintiff may disclaim coverage with respect to Dias' claim for underinsured-motorist benefits.[4] After nearly one year had elapsed, and after discovery had been initiated, plaintiff moved for summary judgment. After considering each party's written and oral arguments, the hearing justice ruled that plaintiff and Progressive Northern "are distinct entities, " and he granted plaintiff's motion. The defendants timely appealed to this Court.



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