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United Financial Casualty Co. v. Nelson

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 18, 2015

UNITED FINANCIAL CASUALTY COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
BRADLEY NELSON, Defendant.

William L. Davidson, LIND JENSEN SULLIVAN & PETERSON, PA, 901 Marquette Avenue South, Suite 1300, Minneapolis, MN 55402, for plaintiff.

Kelly M. Klun, KLUN LAW FIRM PA, 1 East Chapman Street, P.O. Box 240, Ely, MN 55731, for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

JOHN R. TUNHEIM, District Judge.

Plaintiff United Financial Casualty Company ("UFCC") brings this declaratory judgment action against Defendant Bradley Nelson ("Nelson"). UFCC insured, under a Commercial Auto Policy ("the Policy"), a semi-tractor and trailer owned by Nelson. In 2011, Nelson's semi-tractor collided with a snowmobile whose owner did not have auto insurance on the vehicle. Nelson is attempting to obtain underinsured coverage from UFCC for injuries he sustained in the accident. UFCC seeks an Order from the Court establishing that a snowmobile is not an automobile as defined by the Policy and thus is not an "underinsured auto" for purposes of coverage under the Policy. UFCC has filed a motion for summary judgment based on the plain language of the Policy. Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to Nelson as the nonmoving party, the Court finds that no genuine issue of material fact remains as to whether snowmobiles constitute "autos" under the Policy. Therefore, the Court will grant UFCC's motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

I. UNDERLYING EVENTS

Bradley Nelson owned and drove a 2005 Kenworth T800 semi-tractor ("semitractor") and a 2006 Savage Trailer ("trailer"). (Compl. ¶ 7, Mar. 24, 2014, Docket No. 1; Aff. of Brian A. Wood ("Wood Aff."), Ex. 4 (Commercial Auto Insurance Coverage Policy ("Policy")) at 7, Oct. 27, 2014, Docket No. 19.)[1] Nelson's semi-tractor and trailer were both insured through UFCC under a Progressive Commercial Auto insurance Policy. (Policy at 7.)

On January 29, 2011, Nelson was driving his semi-tractor and trailer southbound on Minnesota County Road 4/Vermilion Trail ("Vermilion Trail") in Colvin, Minnesota. (Wood Aff., Ex. 3 (State of Minnesota Department of Public Safety Accident Report ("Accident Report")).) At approximately 4:56 PM, 17-year old Joseph James Tynjala ("Tynjala") attempted to cross Vermilion Trail from the east ditch on a 1996 Ski-Doo MXZ snowmobile. (Id. ) Tynjala failed to yield the right of way to Nelson's semi-tractor. (Id. ) Nelson was traveling approximately 50 miles per hour and attempted to swerve to avoid Tynjala's snowmobile. (Id. ) He was unable to avoid the snowmobile, however, and struck Tynjala head-on. (Id. ) Nelson's semi-tractor and trailer then jackknifed, running over Tynjala and lodging the snowmobile under the trailer. (Id. )

The accident report filled out by Deputy Luke Alan Hendrickson indicated that Tynjala was at fault for the accident because he failed to yield the right of way. (Id. ) The snowmobile Tynjala was riding belonged to Carol Alvina Tynjala. (Id. ) It was registered in Minnesota, (Wood Aff., Exs. 1-2), and not insured by an auto insurance policy[2] at the time of the accident, (Accident Report). As a result of the accident, Nelson sustained injuries. (Compl. ¶ 11.) At oral argument, the parties noted that Nelson subsequently received approximately $100, 000 from Carol Tynjala's homeowner's insurance policy.

II. THE INSURANCE POLICY

Because Tynjala's snowmobile was not insured by an auto insurance policy, Nelson seeks underinsured motorist coverage from UFCC under his Commercial Auto Policy. Under the Policy, UFCC agrees to pay damages to an insured individual in the event of an accident involving an "underinsured auto." (Policy at 45.) The "Underinsured Motorist Coverage" provision in the Policy states:

INSURING AGREEMENT - UNDERINSURED MOTORIST COVERAGE
Subject to the Limits of Liability, if you pay the premium for Underinsured Motorist Coverage, we will pay for damages, other than punitive or exemplary damages, which an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an underinsured auto because of bodily injury:
1. sustained by an ...

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