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Colonial Insurance Co. v. Sisson

March 24, 1997

COLONIAL INSURANCE COMPANY OF CALIFORNIA, A FOREIGN INSURER, RESPONDENT,
v.
BRAD AND JANE DOE SISSON, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF; GAIL LYNN MATTHEWS AND JOHN DOE MATTHEWS, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF, DEFENDANTS, MARIA FELECIA VALADEZ AND JOSE VALADEZ, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF, APPELLANTS, VERNON KRISTIAN AND JANE DOE KRISTIAN, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF; SANDRA KIEFER AND JOHN DOE KIEFER, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF; MELODY KIEFER AND JOHN DOE KIEFER, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF; RHONDA LEE SKILLMAN AND JOHN DOE SKILLMAN, HUSBAND AND WIFE AND THE MARITAL COMMUNITY COMPOSED THEREOF, DEFENDANTS.



Appeal from Superior Court of Skagit County. Docket No: 94-2-00150-0. Date filed: 10/27/95. Judge signing: Hon. George E. McIntosh.

PER CURIAM -- Maria Valadez was injured when her car was struck by a truck driven by 19-year-old Gail Matthews. Valadez argues that Colonial Insurance Company should be held liable for her losses because its insured, Bradley Sisson, grabbed the steering wheel before the collision. But Colonial's policy excluded coverage for accidents that occurred when the insured vehicle was being driven by someone under age 25, and Valadez does not claim that Matthews lost control and was not driving when the accident occurred. We, therefore, affirm.

On August 11, 1990, Bradley Sisson let his 19-year-old girlfriend, Gail Matthews, drive his truck so she could learn to use a stick shift. As she was turning into the parking lot of a mall in Burlington, Sisson could see that she was not turning sharply enough to make the corner, so he grabbed the steering wheel. The truck then struck Mary Valadez' car.

Sisson's truck was insured through Colonial Insurance Company of California. The policy provided "benefits for loss and expense incurred because of bodily injury caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a car[.]" When Sisson applied for his policy, he agreed that his policy would specifically exclude coverage if the person driving the truck was less than 25 years old:

I understand and agree that the insurance policy I am requesting will not apply while the automobile insured is being driven by any person under the age of twenty-five unless such person is named on this application and on the policy.

The actual restriction in the policy is as follows:

No coverage is provided by this policy while the insured car is being driven by any person under the age of twenty-five (25) unless that person is named in the policy or on the application for this insurance.

Gail Matthews was not named in Sisson's application for insurance or the policy.

Colonial notified Sisson in September 1990 that, based upon the exclusion, it was denying coverage for the accident. In February 1994, Colonial filed a complaint for declaratory judgment in Skagit County Superior Court against Sisson, Valadez, and others. Colonial asked the court to declare that its policy did not cover the damages arising out of the accident.

Colonial moved for summary judgment in December 1994. Judge George McIntosh denied the motion in an oral ruling on January 27, 1995, but after Colonial moved for reconsideration, the court granted its motion:

After careful review, I conclude that my original ruling was in error and will grant the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

My focus on the insured's use of the vehicle was misplaced.

Without question, the insured was "using" the vehicle and exercised some control, certainly at the moment he grabbed the steering wheel.

The focus, however, has to go to the exclusion, and its applicability. It is clear that a person under twenty-five was operating that vehicle and that there was no coverage under this policy one second before the accident. Did the legal situation change the moment the insured grabbed and pulled the steering ...


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