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Lueras v. Geico General Insurance Co.

Court of Appeals of New Mexico

June 14, 2018

ANGELA LUERAS and JOE LUERAS, individually, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
GEICO GENERAL INSURANCE COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee, and ANGELA LUERAS and JOE LUERAS, as parents and guardians of A. LUERAS, a minor, Plaintiffs, and MARIA RODRIGUEZ, FARMERS INSURANCE COMPANY OF ARIZONA a/k/a FARMERS INSURANCE GROUP a/k/a FARMERS INSURANCE EXCHANGE, Defendants, And DAVID VAN EPPS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
GEICO INDEMNITY COMPANY Defendant-Appellee, and CESAR MONTANO, Defendants.

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF BERNALILLO COUNTY Alan M. Malott, District Judge

          APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TAOS COUNTY Sarah C. Backus, District Judge

          Law Offices of Geoffrey R. Romero Geoffrey R. Romero Albuquerque, NM O'ConnellLawLLC ErinB. O'Connell Albuquerque, NM Widner Law Firm LLC Susan H. Widner Albuquerque, NM for Lueras Appellants Anthony G. Lopez, Attorney at Law Anthony G. Lopez Taos, NM for Van Epps Appellant

          Chapman and Priest, PC Stephen M. Simone Albuquerque, NM Perry Law, P.C. Meloney Perry Stacy Thompson Dallas, TX for GEICO Appellees

          OPINION

          EMIL J. KIEHNE, Judge

         {¶1} Plaintiffs, Angela and Joe Lueras, and David Van Epps, filed two separate lawsuits against GEICO General Insurance Company and GEICO Indemnity Company[1], respectively, in response to GEICO's refusal to pay uninsured/underinsured (XJM/UIM) benefits to them. GEICO declined to pay because Plaintiffs had rejected UM/UIM coverage. The district courts granted summary judgment to GEICO in both cases. These appeals raise substantially similar issues, and for that reason we exercise our discretion to consolidate them for decision. See Rulel2-317(B)NMRA.

         {¶2} On appeal, Plaintiffs make the following claims:

1. The UM/UIM rejection forms violated New Mexico law because they did not explain that the UM/UIM benefits would be stacked.
2. The insurance policies were misleading and ambiguous because they incorrectly stated that UM/UIM benefits would not be stacked.
3. The Luerases separately claim that GEICO violated New Mexico law because the declaration page misrepresents the amount of UM/UIM coverage.
4. GEICO's requirement that Plaintiffs either purchase the same level of UM/UIM insurance on each vehicle covered by a single policy, or reject UM/UIM insurance entirely, violated New Mexico law.
5. The Luerases separately claim that GEICO's failure to obtain another rejection of UM/UIM coverage when they added a vehicle to their policy entitles them to UM/UIM coverage.
6. Mr. Van Epps separately contends that after his wife initially selected UM/UIM coverage below the liability limits of the policy, GEICO sent her a form that improperly discouraged her from purchasing UM/UIM coverage, and that her rejection of UM/UIM coverage on that form is therefore invalid.

         {¶3} We affirm. Claims 1 and 2 are identical to claims that we recently considered and rejected in Ullman v. Safeway Insurance Co., 2017-NMCA-071, 404 P.3d 434, cert, granted, 2017-NMCERT- ___ (A-l-CA-36580 Aug. 24, 2017). Claim 3 is also foreclosed by the rationale in Ullman. We reject Claim 4 because New Mexico law does not preclude an insurer from requiring an insured to choose the same UM/UIM coverage (or to reject UM/UIM coverage entirely) for all vehicles covered by a single policy. Claim 5 is foreclosed by our decision in Vigil v. Rio Grande Insurance of Santa Fe, 1997-NMCA-124, ¶¶ 14-17, 124 N.M. 324, 950 P.2d 297, which has not been modified by any later decisions by our Supreme Court. Finally, we reject Claim 6 because GEICO was required by law to send the UM/UIM coverage form to Mrs. Van Epps, and nothing in it discouraged her from selecting UM/UIM coverage.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Lueras v. GEICO General Insurance Company

         {¶4} The Luerases bought an automobile insurance policy for their three vehicles from GEICO in 2009. The policy had liability limits of $50, 000 per person and $ 1003000 per occurrence. GEICO presented the Luerases with a form on which they could select or reject UM/UIM coverage. The form did not explain that the UM/UIM coverages for each vehicle would be stacked. The form provided the Luerases with the option of selecting the same UM/UIM coverage for all three vehicles, or rejecting UM/UIM coverage entirely. The Luerases rejected UM/UIM coverage. Later, the Luerases added a fourth vehicle to their policy, and GEICO again sent the Luerases a form on which to select or reject UM/UIM coverage. The Luerases did not sign or return the form to GEICO.

         {¶5} In 2011, Plaintiff Angela Lueras was the driver of, and her daughter a passenger in, a vehicle that was involved in a crash with Defendant Maria Rodriguez. Ms. Rodriguez's automobile insurance coverage was not sufficient to fully compensate the Luerases for the injuries they suffered as a result of the crash. The Luerases asked GEICO to provide UIM benefits, but GEICO denied their claim because they had rejected UM/UIM coverage. The Luerases then sued GEICO and Ms. Rodriguez in the Second Judicial District Court, Bernalillo County, arguing that their rejection of UM/UIM coverage was invalid on several grounds. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment in GEICO's favor and denied the Luerases' cross-motion for summary judgment. The Luerases timely appealed.

         II. Van Epps v. GEICO Indemnity Company

         {¶6} Mr. Van Epps' wife, Wendy Van Epps, purchased a GEICO insurance policy in 2010 on four vehicles that the couple owned. The policy had liability limits of $50, 000 per person and $100, 000 per occurrence. Mrs. Van Epps selected UM/UIM coverage of $25, 000 per person and $50, 000 per occurrence, which was less than the liability limits. Two days later, GEICO sent Mrs. Van Epps a form letter asking her to select or reject UM/UIM coverage. According to the menu of options on the form, if Mrs. Van Epps wanted to select UM/UIM coverage, she had to purchase the same level of coverage on all four vehicles, and if she wanted to reject UM/UIM coverage, she had to reject it on all four vehicles. She could not select different UM/UIM coverage limits for each vehicle, or select UM/UIM coverage on some vehicles and reject it ...


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