Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hansen

Respondent Jennifer Hansen was injured in a motor vehicle accident in late 2007. Four months later, she presented an underinsured motorist (“UIM”) claim to petitioner American Family Mutual Insurance Company (“American Family”), insurer of her vehicle. As proof of insurance, Hansen offered lienholder statements issued to her by American Family’s local agent that identified her as the named insured at the time of the accident. American Family’s own records, however, indicated that the named insureds on the policy at the time of the accident were Hansen’s stepfather and mother, William and Joyce Davis (the “Davises”). In reliance upon the policy as reflected in its own records, American Family determined that Hansen was not insured under the policy and denied coverage. Hansen filed an action against American Family asserting claims for breach of contract, common law bad faith, and statutory bad faith for unreasonable delay or denial of benefits under sections 10-3-1115 and -1116, C.R.S. (2015). Prior to trial, American Family reformed the contract to name Hansen as the insured, and the parties settled the breach of contract claim, leaving only the common law and statutory bad faith claims for trial. The trial court ruled that the deviation in the records issued by American Family’s agent and those produced by its own underwriting department created an ambiguity in the insurance policy as to the identity of the named insured, and instructed the jury that an ambiguous contract must be construed against the insurer. The jury found in favor of Hansen on the statutory bad faith claim, indicating on a special verdict form that American Family had delayed or denied payment without a reasonable basis for its action. The trial court awarded Hansen attorney fees, court costs, and a statutory penalty. American Family appealed the judgment and award of statutory damages, arguing, among other things, that the trial court erred in finding that the lienholder statements created an ambiguity in the insurance contract as to the identity of the insured and that, at the very least, the contract was arguably unambiguous such that the company had a reasonable basis to deny coverage and could not be liable for statutory bad faith. The court of appeals affirmed, finding that the lienholder statements created an ambiguity and that, even assuming American Family’s legal position was a reasonable one, American Family could still be held liable for statutory bad faith. After its reverse, the Supreme Court reversed. Because the insurance contract unambiguously named William and Joyce Davis as the insureds at the time of the accident, the trial court and court of appeals erred in relying on extrinsic evidence to find an ambiguity in the insurance contract, "[a]n ambiguity must appear in the four corners of the document before extrinsic evidence can be considered." Accordingly, American Family’s denial of Hansen’s claim in reliance on the unambiguous insurance contract was reasonable, and American Family could not be held liable under sections 10-3-1115 and -1116 for statutory bad faith. View "Am. Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Hansen" on Justia Law