United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division
L. Christensen, Chief Judge
the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary
judgment in this declaratory judgment action. On August 17,
2016, Petitioner Progressive Northwestern Insurance Company
("Progressive") filed its motion for summary
judgment, arguing that it has discharged its duties to
Respondents. On September 27, 2016, Respondents Shawna
Jensen, Megan Collins, Leonard Piedalue, and Warren James
responded to Progressive's motion and filed their
cross-motion for summary judgment, seeking entry of judgment
in their favor. For the reasons explained below, the Court
denies each party's motion.
evening of August 27, 2015, Respondent Shawna Jensen was
traveling west on Montana Highway 200 in her 2002 GMC Yukon
when she crossed the center line. On the other side of the
dividing line was a dump truck driven by Respondent Leonard
Piedalue. As Piedalue moved toward the shoulder, he felt the
impact of Jensen's Yukon, "and then [he] was in the
air." (Doc. 31 at 2.) Within a matter of moments, the
Yukon struck a second vehicle, Respondent Warren James's
Ford F-150 Extended Cab, which was following Piedalue's
dump truck in the eastbound lane. Both Piedalue and James
suffered extensive damages.
Progressive insured Jensen's Yukon at the time of the
collisions. The policy in play provided liability coverage
with limits of "$300, 000 combined single limit each
accident" subject to the other terms and conditions of
the Progressive policy. The policy does not define
"accident." Both Piedalue and James have demanded a
separate $300, 000 limit. Following receipt of
Respondents' claims, Progressive accepted liability and
paid a single limit of $300, 000 to be divided between
Piedalue and James.
parties dispute whether the collisions between Jensen's
vehicle and those driven by Piedalue and James constitute one
accident or two. In addition to the legal question of policy
interpretation, some facts remain in dispute, particularly:
the time between the collisions, the location of the second
collision, and Jensen's actions and control of the Yukon
between the collisions. The relevance of these disputes is
judgment is appropriate when the moving party demonstrates
that "there is no genuine dispute as to any material
fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). To determine whether a factual
dispute is material, the Court looks to substantive law;
"[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
preclude the entry of summary judgment." Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251 (1986). In
diversity cases, the Court applies the substantive law of the
forum state. Kabatoff v. Safeco Ins. Co. of Am., 627
F.2d 207, 209 (9th Cir. 1980).
argue that, under the unambiguous terms of the policy, only
one accident occurred, regardless of the specific facts in
dispute. Respondents argue both: (1) that the policy is
ambiguous and should be construed in favor of coverage; and
(2) that under Montana insurance law, two accidents occurred.
The Court disagrees that the policy is ambiguous, but it
determines that the question of how many accidents occurred
cannot be resolved without an adjudication of relevant
Interpretation of the Term "Accident"
parties dispute whether the term "accident" is
ambiguous such that it should be construed in favor of
coverage. The Court agrees with Petitioner that even if the
term could be construed as ambiguous in other circumstances,
that ambiguity would be irrelevant to this Order.
ambiguity exists where the contract, when taken as a whole,
is reasonably subject to two different interpretations.
Whether an ambiguity exists is determined through the eyes of
'a consumer with intelligence but not trained in the law
or insurance business.' " Hardy v. Progressive
Specialty Ins. Co., 67 P.3d 892, 896 (Mont. 2003)
(internal citations omitted). Where an ambiguity exists, it
"must be construed in favor of the insured and in favor
of extending coverage." Id.
the policy's insuring agreement states,
"[Progressive] will pay damages for bodily injury and
properly damage for which an insured person becomes legally
responsible because of an accident." (Doc. 1-1 at 2.)
The policy does not define the term "accident, "
but the use of the singular indefinite article "an"
clearly demonstrates that whatever an ...