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McLaughlin v. Travelers Commercial Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Washington, Division 1

August 12, 2019

TODD MCLAUGHLIN, a Washington resident, Appellant,
v.
TRAVELERS COMMERCIAL INSURANCE COMPANY, a foreign corporation, Respondent.

          Smith, J.

         Todd McLaughlin appeals the trial court's dismissal of his lawsuit against his insurer, Travelers Commercial Insurance Company. McLaughlin was injured after he struck an open car door while riding his bicycle. McLaughlin's personal injury protection (PIP) policy covers injuries to a "pedestrian" but does not define that term. Because we must give an undefined term in an insurance policy its plain, ordinary, and common meaning and because the dictionary definition of "pedestrian" excludes bicyclists, we hold that McLaughlin was not a pedestrian at the time of his injury and therefore not entitled to PIP benefits. Additionally, we reject McLaughlin's contention that a definition of "pedestrian" in Washington's Insurance Code, Title 48 RCW, requires that a bicyclist is a pedestrian under his policy. Accordingly, we affirm.

         FACTS

         On July 31, 2017, McLaughlin was injured while riding his bicycle on Westlake Avenue in Seattle. Daniel Moore, who was parked on the street, did not see McLaughlin approach and opened his driver's side door, striking McLaughlin.

         At the time of the accident, McLaughlin was covered by a California Personal Auto policy from Travelers. The policy provided PIP benefits of up to $5, 000 in medical expenses sustained by an "insured." The term "insured" was defined in relevant part as "a pedestrian when struck by" a motor vehicle. The term "pedestrian" was not defined.

         McLaughlin sought coverage for his medical expenses under the policy. Travelers denied coverage, finding that McLaughlin was not a pedestrian because he was riding his bicycle at the time of the accident. McLaughlin sued Travelers for breach of contract and other related theories based on its denial of coverage. Both McLaughlin and Travelers moved for summary judgment on the breach of contract claim. The trial court concluded that the ordinary and common meaning of the term "pedestrian" does not include a bicyclist. It therefore granted Traveler's motion for summary judgment and denied McLaughlin's motion for summary judgment. McLaughlin appeals.

         ANALYSIS

         McLaughlin argues that because the ordinary meaning of "pedestrian" includes a bicyclist, the trial court erred in granting summary judgment to Travelers. We disagree.

         "This court reviews summary judgment determinations de novo, engaging in the same inquiry as the trial court."' Kut Suen Lui v. Essex Ins. Co., 185 Wn.2d 703, 709-10, 375 P.3d 596 (2016) (quoting Durland v. San Juan County, 182Wn.2d 55, 69, 340 P.3d 191 (2014)). '"Summary judgment is proper where there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.'" Kut Suen Lui, 185 Wn.2d at 710 (quoting Durland, 182 Wn.2d at 69)). "Courts interpret language in an insurance policy as a matter of law," and this court reviews those interpretations de novo. Kut Suen Lui, 185 Wn.2d at 710. As the insured, McLaughlin bears the burden to prove that he was entitled to coverage under the policy. E-Z Loader Boat Trailers. Inc. v. Travelers Indem. Co., 106 Wn.2d 901, 906, 726 P.2d 439 (1986).

         Courts construe insurance policies as contracts. Weyerhaeuser Co. v. Commercial Union Ins. Co., 142 Wn.2d 654, 665, 15 P.3d 115 (2000). When the court interprets an insurance policy, it considers the insurance policy as a whole, giving the policy "'a fair, reasonable, and sensible construction as would be given to the contract by the average person purchasing insurance.'" Quadrant Corp. v. Am. States Ins. Co.. 154 Wn.2d 165, 171, 110 P.3d 733 (2005) (quoting Weyerhaeuser, 142 Wn.2d at 666). "Undefined terms in an insurance contract must be given their 'plain, ordinary, and popular' meaning." Boeing Co. v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 113 Wn.2d 869, 877, 784 P.2d 507 (1990) (quoting Farmers Ins. Co. of Wash, v. Miller, 87 Wn.2d 70, 73, 549 P.2d 9 (1976)). "To determine the ordinary meaning of an undefined term, our courts look to standard English language dictionaries." Boeing, 113 Wn.2d at 877.

         Here, McLaughlin's policy covers "reasonable expenses incurred for necessary medical and funeral services because of 'bodily injury': 1. Caused by an accident; and 2. Sustained by an 'insured.'" The policy defines an "insured" as:

1. You or any "resident relative":
a. While "occupying"; or ...

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