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Handy v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Second Circuit

September 25, 2019

COURTNEY HANDY, ON BEHALF OF COURTLANDRA ARMSTEAD, JAMETRICE HANDY AND AIDEN HANDY Plaintiffs-Appellees
v.
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY Defendant-Appellant

          Appealed from the Monroe City Court for the Parish of Ouachita, Louisiana Trial Court No. 2016CV01701. Honorable Tammy Lee, Judge

          DAVENPORT, FILES & KELLY, L.L.P. By: M. Shane Craighead Counsel for Appellant

          LAW OFFICE OF ANTHONY J. BRUSCATO By: Anthony J. Bruscato Counsel for Appellees

          Before COX, STEPHENS, and McCALLUM, JJ.

          COX, J.

         State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company ("State Farm") appeals a judgment from Monroe City Court in favor of the plaintiffs, Courtney Handy, on behalf of her minor son, Aiden Handy, and Reginald Handy, on behalf of the minors, Courtlandra Armstead and Jametrice Handy. The trial court allowed the plaintiffs to proceed against State Farm under the uninsured motorist ("UM") provision of the insurance policy. For the following reasons, we respectfully reverse the trial court's judgment.

         FACTS

         The accident occurred on May 19, 2015. Courtney was driving a 2004 Ford F-150 north on North 18th Street at its intersection with Millhaven Road and Texas Avenue in Monroe, Louisiana. The intersection is controlled by a traffic light. Her minor siblings, Courtlandra and Jametrice, and her minor son, Aiden, were all passengers in the vehicle. North 18th Street runs north and south. Millhaven Road and Texas Avenue both run east and west. As Courtney was traveling north on North 18th Street, she made a left turn in front of the southbound vehicles causing her to collide with the other vehicles. The parties entered into the following stipulation agreement:

This litigation involves a four-vehicle accident for which Plaintiff, Courtney D. Handy, was at fault. State Farm provided automobile liability coverage on the vehicle being operated by Ms. Handy in the coverage amounts of $15, 000.00 per person per accident, and $30, 000.00 total per accident for bodily injury.
Five bodily injury claims were presented to State Farm:
1) David Biddle;
2) Kavin Clay Johnson;
3) Courtlandra Armstead (Plaintiff's sister and passenger in the Handy vehicle);
4) Jametrice Handy (Plaintiff's brother and passenger in the Handy vehicle); and
5) Aiden Handy (Plaintiff's minor son and passenger in the Handy vehicle).
Biddle treated at Glenwood Regional Medical Center and Sanson's Family Medicine, incurring $4, 406.90 in medical expenses.
Johnson treated for about four months, incurring $4, 584.00 in medical expenses.
[Courtlandra][1] Armstead, Plaintiff's sister, treated for about a month (an emergency room visit and three visits to Dr. J.D. Patterson, the last one being on June 18, 2015) and incurred $2, 709.00 in medical expense.
Jametrice Handy, Plaintiff's brother who was approximately two years old at the time of the accident, visited the emergency room at St. Francis Medical Center, and saw Dr. Patterson once. He incurred $2, 528.15.
Aiden Handy, Plaintiff's son who was about three years old at the time of the accident, incurred $2, 528.15 in medical expense. He visited the emergency room and saw Dr. Patterson once.
State Farm's policy with Plaintiff states that it has "the right to . . . investigate, negotiate, and settle any claim or lawsuit."
The Biddle claim involved $4, 406.90 in medical expense, and State Farm settled that claim for a total of $6, 909.00 (i.e., about $2, 500, plus medical).
The Johnson claim involved four months of treatment and $4, 584.00 in medical expense. State Farm was able to settle that claim for $12, 007.32 ($7, 423.32, plus medical, which equates to less than $2, 000.00 per month).
State Farm thereafter made settlement offers to Courtlandra Armstead, Jametrice Handy, and Aiden Handy, the total of which offers would have expended the remainder of the aggregate policy limit. State Farm offered Courtlandra Armstead $4, 618.20 ($1, 909.20 plus medical); Jametrice Handy $3, 232.74 ($704.59 plus medical); and Aiden Handy $3, 232.74 ($704.59 plus medical).

         The F-150 that Courtney was driving at the time of the collision was insured by State Farm for the benefit of Reginald Handy and anyone driving his vehicle with his permission, which included Courtney.

         Courtney filed a petition for damages on behalf of the minors on May 18, 2016. She alleged that each minor sustained the following damages: physical injuries; physical pain and suffering; mental anguish and distress; and, medical expenses. She filed a supplemental and amending petition, asserting that State Farm failed to timely pay their claims and was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and without probable cause.

         State Farm filed a dilatory exception of lack of procedural capacity. State Farm argued Courtney did not have the procedural capacity to file on behalf of her minor siblings, Courtlandra and Jametrice, and she failed to provide sufficient allegations that she has the procedural capacity to bring claims on behalf of Aiden. State Farm also filed a dilatory exception of vagueness. State Farm argued that Courtney failed to provide facts in support of her claim that it failed to timely pay a claim and was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, and without cause.

         The trial court granted both of State Farm's dilatory exceptions. Courtney was given ten days to amend her petition to conform to the legal requirements of legal capacity to sue on behalf of the minors and to state with more particularity the facts and allegations against State Farm.

         Courtney filed a second supplemental and amending petition on October 17, 2016. She stated that she is the mother of Aiden Handy and is responsible for his medical expenses. She clarified that Reginald Handy is responsible for the medical expenses of Courtlandra Armstead and Jametrice Handy.[2] Courtney stated that she was amending the original petition to state that Reginald is now filing on behalf of Courtlandra and Jametrice.

         State Farm again filed dilatory exceptions of lack of procedural capacity and vagueness, reasserting its previous arguments. State Farm included a copy of a letter it sent to the plaintiffs' counsel requesting that counsel contact State Farm to discuss the fact that Courtney is still the petitioner in the second supplemental and amending petition. As of the filing of the exceptions, State Farm stated it had not been contacted by the plaintiffs' counsel.

         State Farm filed an answer on January 26, 2018. In answering Courtney's second supplemental and amending petition, State Farm affirmatively pled "its contractual limits of $15, 000 per person per accident and $30, 000 total per accident for bodily injury so as to preclude recovery in excess thereof against it under any circumstances." State Farm also asserted that after the bodily injury claims of the other drivers (Biddle and Johnson) were paid, a balance of $11, 083.68 remained on the aggregate bodily injury limit.[3] State Farm affirmatively pled the provisions of its policy, including its contractual "right to … investigate, negotiate, and settle any claim or lawsuit." State Farm denied that it acted in an arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable manner in its effort to negotiate settlements.

         On January 30, 2018, the plaintiffs filed a third supplemental and amending petition. Courtney and Reginald both filed on behalf of their respective minors. They asserted that the liability coverage was insufficient to fully compensate all claimants. They stated that "one or two of the remaining claimants will exhaust the balance of the liability coverage, forcing one or two to seek [UM] coverage under the [State Farm] policy covering the Handy vehicle[.]" ...


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