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Forvendel v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of Louisiana

June 27, 2018

BRANDON FORVENDEL
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY

          ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FIFTH CIRCUIT, PARISH OF JEFFERSON

          PER CURIAM.

         In this case, we are called upon to decide whether an insurer waived its defenses to plaintiff's current claim by paying on an earlier claim to him in error. For the reasons that follow, we find that the insurer did not waive its rights. Accordingly, we reverse the judgments of the courts below.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff, Brandon Forvendel, was injured in a multi-vehicle accident in 2013. At the time of the accident, plaintiff was driving a Chevrolet Equinox owned by him and insured under a policy issued by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm"), which included uninsured motorist ("UM") coverage. Plaintiff recovered the limits of his UM coverage under his State Farm policy.

         At the time of the 2013 accident, plaintiff lived in the household of his mother, Deborah Forvendel, who was also insured by State Farm. Plaintiff also sought to recover under his mother's State Farm UM policy, which carried significantly higher policy limits. State Farm refused to allow him to recover under his mother's policy, citing the anti-stacking provisions of La. R.S. 22:1295(1)(c).[1]

         As a result, plaintiff filed the instant suit against State Farm. In his petition, plaintiff alleged that the facts of the instant case were strikingly similar to an earlier 2007 accident in which State Farm allowed him to recover UM benefits under both his own UM policy and his mother's UM policy.

         At trial, plaintiff offered evidence regarding the 2007 accident. In particular, he relied on a June 9, 2008 letter from a State Farm manager to plaintiff's attorney. This letter referenced to the 2007 accident and plaintiff's claim under his mother's policy, stating, "your client does qualify as an insured for Uninsured Motorist coverage." Thereafter, State Farm allowed plaintiff to recover under both policies for the 2007 accident. Ms. Forvendel testified State Farm did not notify her of any error in permitting plaintiff's recovery under her policy in 2007.

         State Farm's representative, Aaron Angel, testified that the 2007 payment was made in error. Paul Robichaux, a State Farm Auto Team Manager in 2008, testified the 2007 claim was referred to him to consider whether plaintiff, as a resident relative, could select UM coverage under Ms. Forvendel's policy, but he did not consider the anti-stacking statute. Mr. Robichaux stated he was unaware plaintiff collected UM benefits under his own policy at the time, and he did not make any determination regarding stacking.

         At the conclusion of trial, the district court entered judgment for plaintiff in the amount of $50, 000 in damages, plus interest and costs. In its reasons for judgment, the district court explained "State Farm previously interpreted the agreement between the parties to cover plaintiff under his mother's UM policy, and this fact can be considered by the Court in interpreting the agreement between the parties in effect at the time of the 2013 accident."

         State Farm appealed. In a split decision, the Court of Appeal, Fifth Circuit, affirmed, concluding the trial court did not err in finding State Farm waived any defense to the 2013 claim by paying the 2007 claim in error. Forvendel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 17-77 (La.App. 5 Cir. 11/15/17), 230 So.3d 687. The dissenting judge rejected the majority's reasoning, finding it would be in contravention of the anti-stacking statute to find State Farm extended coverage to plaintiff beyond his policy limits.

         Upon State Farm's application, we granted certiorari to consider the correctness of this decision. Forvendel v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 17-2074 (La. 3/9/18), __So.3d__.

         DISCUSSION

         The anti-stacking statute, La. R.S. 22:1295 provides, ...


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