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Rones v. Safeco Insurance Co.

February 4, 1991

SYLVIA RONES, RESPONDENT,
v.
SAFECO INSURANCE COMPANY OF AMERICA, APPELLANT



Scholfield, J. Grosse, C.j., and Forrest, J., concur.

Author: Scholfield

Respondent Sylvia Rones brought suit against appellant Safeco on November 10, 1988, alleging breach of contract and seeking a determination that Safeco was required to pay her damages for injuries suffered in a 1984 auto accident. Rones carries an auto liability policy with Safeco. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The trial court denied Safeco's motion, but granted Rones' motion for partial summary judgment, holding that her claim was covered under the 1984 insurance policy and that she had 6 years from the date of Safeco's denial of liability under the contract in which to bring suit. Safeco now appeals. We reverse.

Facts

Rones was injured in an auto accident on November 6, 1984. At the time of the accident, she was riding as a passenger in her own vehicle. The driver of the car, Eric Carlson, crossed over the center line into oncoming traffic and collided with a car driven by Sonny Anderson. Carlson had no liability insurance.

Because Carlson was the driver of Rones' car, he was a "covered person" under the terms of Rones' liability coverage with Safeco. The policy provided that Safeco would pay damages for bodily injury for which any covered person became legally responsible as the result of an auto accident. Both Rones and Anderson made claims for damages against Safeco under the liability coverage provisions.

Safeco insurance adjuster Jerry Faulkner was assigned to handle Rones' claim. Faulkner determined that Carlson was at fault in the accident. Safeco soon determined that Carlson was a "covered person" and that Carlson was liable to Rones. However, Safeco was waiting for additional information on the Rones claim in order to work toward a reasonable settlement.

From 1984 to 1987, negotiations between Rones' attorneys and Safeco continued. Rones had both underinsured motorist coverage (UIM) and liability coverage with Safeco.*fn1 Safeco concluded that Rones' claim was covered only under the liability portion of the policy, as the underinsured motorist provision contained an exclusion of any vehicle to which the liability insurance provisions attached.*fn2 In 1987, Safeco adjuster Faulkner wrote Rones'

attorneys several letters requesting both medical records pertaining to Rones' injuries and proposals for settlement. In a letter dated June 10, 1987, Faulkner wrote, "I would request your thoughts concerning settlement. Please reduce it to writing as it appears time to conclude this matter." On July 16, 1987, Faulkner wrote, "As I informed you earlier, Ms. Rones' claim for this accident comes under the liability portion of the policy for automobile bodily injury. I trust you will forward the necessary information as promised earlier so that we might evaluate this rather than filing the action." Finally, on September 3, 1987, Faulkner wrote, "I have written you and Mr. Newsham on several occasions requesting your thoughts concerning settlement. . . . Please forward the needed information to either Shawn or myself for evaluation."

The 3-year statute of limitations on Rones' claim against Carlson expired on November 6, 1987. Rones failed to commence a lawsuit against Carlson within that 3-year period. In December 1987, a demand for settlement of Rones' claims was presented to Safeco. Safeco denied the demand on January 8, 1988, stating that the statute of limitations for Rones' claim against Carlson had expired on November 6, 1987, 3 years from the date of the accident. Rones subsequently brought suit against Safeco on November 10, 1988, seeking damages on a theory of breach of contract. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Rones, finding that the insurance policy provided coverage for her claim and that she had 6 years from the date of Safeco's denial of coverage under the contract in which to bring an action.

3-year Statute of Limitations Applies to Rones' Claim Based on ...


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