SVETLANA KOREN as parent and Guardian of ERIC KOREN, Petitioner,
STATE FARM FIRE AND CASUALTY COMPANY, a foreign entity authorized to perform the business of insurance in Washington, Respondent.
the personal injury protection (PIP) provisions of State
Farm's insurance policy, and Washington's motor
vehicle and insurance statutes, a standard capacity school
bus does not qualify as an "automobile." This is
because an "automobile" is defined as a motor
vehicle designed to carry 10 passengers or less and school buses
can carry many more than 10 people.
the limited definition of an "automobile, " we are
asked whether a collision between school buses qualifies as
an "automobile accident" because the term
"automobile accident" has a special meaning,
extending to all motor vehicle collisions, regardless of
vehicle type. Our answer is no. The meaning of
"automobile accident" is informed by the
definitions applicable to the term's component words.
"Automobile accident" is a two-word phrase wherein
the first word modifies the second. As such, a collision can
qualify as an "automobile accident" only if it
involves a vehicle meeting the definition of an
superior court properly construed the term "automobile
accident" in granting summary judgment to State Farm.
The order on appeal is therefore affirmed.
Koren's minor son Eric was injured as a result of a
collision involving two school buses. Mrs. Koren filed a
claim for PIP benefits on behalf of Eric with her insurer,
portion of the insurance policy between Mrs. Koren and State
Farm provides benefits "for bodily
injury sustained by [the] insured
and caused by an automobile accident."
Clerk's Papers (CP) at 59. Those PIP provisions further
define an "automobile, " in pertinent part, as a
"motor vehicle registered or designed
for carrying ten passengers or less . . . ."
Id. at 58. The terms "accident" and
"automobile accident" are not defined in the
Farm denied Mrs. Koren's coverage claim. According to
State Farm, Eric's injuries were not sustained during an
"automobile accident" as contemplated by Mrs.
Koren's policy. Specifically, because each of the two
buses involved were designed to carry more than 10
passengers, neither vehicle met the policy definition of an
Koren filed suit against State Farm on behalf of Eric in
Spokane County Superior Court, and the parties filed cross
motions for summary judgment on issues related to insurance
coverage. The superior court sided with State Farm. The court
reasoned the focus in this case was not the definition of
"automobile accident, " rather it was whether the
school buses involved in the accident met the definition of
"automobile." It found the policy's definition
of "automobile" was not ambiguous and the buses did
not qualify as automobiles. The superior court also found the
definition of "automobile" under the insurance
policy tracked with the language of RCW 48.22.005(1) and RCW
46.04.382; thus, it did not contravene public policy. Since
the court found the school bus collision here did not qualify
as an insurable event, it did not reach State Farm's
other coverage arguments for summary judgment.
Koren sought, and we granted, discretionary review of the
superior court's summary judgment order.
judgment orders are reviewed de novo. Lyons v. U.S. Bank
Nat'l Ass 'n, 181 Wn.2d 775, 783, 336 P.3d 1142
(2014). Where the facts in a motor vehicle insurance case are
not disputed, "coverage depends solely on the language
of the insurance policy, " and the interpretation of
such language is a question of law reviewed de novo.
Roller v. Stonewall Ins. Co., 115 Wn.2d 679, 682,
801 P.2d 207 (1990), overruled on other grounds by
Butzberger v. Foster, 151 Wn.2d 396, 89 P.3d 689 (2004).
"In construing the language of an insurance policy, the
policy should be given a fair, reasonable, and sensible
construction as would be given to the contract by the average
person purchasing insurance." Roller, 115 Wn.2d
at 682. Courts may not create an ambiguity where the policy
language is "clear and unambiguous, " and not
fairly susceptible to different reasonable interpretations.
Kitsap County v. Allstate Ins. Co., 136 Wn.2d 567,
576, 964 P.2d 1173 (1998).
Koren challenges the superior court's summary judgment
order favoring State Farm, arguing the plain terms of her
policy do not resolve the question of whether a school bus
collision constitutes an "automobile accident." As
noted by Mrs. Koren, the State Farm policy defines the term
"automobile, " but not "automobile
accident." According to Mrs. Koren, "automobile
accident" is a term of art that has a special meaning
and extends coverage to all motor vehicle collisions. Mrs.
Koren relies on Farmers Insurance Company of Washington
v. Grelis, 43 Wn.App. 475, 718P.2d812 (1986) and
Tyrrell v. Farmers Insurance Company of Washington,
140 Wn.2d 129, 994 P.2d 833 (2000) for this assertion.
Grelis, the insured was physically assaulted while
sitting in his van. He filed a claim for PIP benefits.
Farmers denied coverage, claiming Mr. Grelis had not been
involved in an "automobile accident." There was no
dispute that, under the plain terms of the PIP policy, Mr.
Grelis's van constituted an "automobile" and
his injuries were sustained as a result of an
"accident." Nevertheless, Farmers argued the term