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Traynum v. Cynthia Scavens & Progressive Direct Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

April 20, 2016

Loretta Traynum and Leonard Traynum, Appellants,
v.
Cynthia Scavens and Progressive Direct Insurance Co., Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2013-002797

Heard December 3, 2015.

Appeal from Aiken County Doyet A. Early, III, Circuit Court Judge

Blake A. Hewitt and John S. Nichols, both of Bluestein, Nichols, Thompson & Delgado, L.L.C., of Columbia, and Tom Young, Jr., of Law Offices of Tom Young, Jr., P.C, of Aiken, for Appellants.

J.R. Murphy and Wesley B. Sawyer, both of Murphy & Grantland, P.A., of Columbia, for Respondents.

David C. Marshall and R. Hawthorne Barrett, both of Turner Padget Graham & Laney, P.A., of Columbia, for Amicus Curiae, Property Casualty Insurers Association of America.

KITTREDGE, JUSTICE.

Loretta Traynum and Leonard Traynum (collectively, Appellants) appeal the trial court's grant of summary judgment to Respondent Progressive Direct Insurance Co. (Progressive), arguing the trial court incorrectly held that Progressive made a meaningful offer of underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage via its website. We affirm.

I.

In April 2007, Loretta Traynum (Traynum) purchased an automobile insurance policy from Progressive through Progressive's website. Instead of selecting one of the preset packages Progressive offered, all of which contained UIM coverage by default, Traynum created a custom package which did not include UIM coverage. Traynum also increased the preset deductibles for comprehensive and collision coverages. The result of these changes was a lower monthly premium. Traynum then electronically signed a form acknowledging Progressive offered her optional UIM coverage and that she rejected that coverage.

Thereafter, in November 2007, Traynum and Cynthia Scavens were involved in an automobile accident, from which Appellants claimed more than $175, 000 in damages. Appellants brought claims against Scavens for negligence and loss of consortium, which were settled for $100, 000, the limits of Scavens's liability coverage. As the settlement did not fully satisfy Appellants' damages, Appellants also brought a declaratory judgment action against Progressive claiming Progressive did not make a meaningful offer of UIM coverage to Traynum, as required by law, and asking the court to reform Traynum's policy to include UIM coverage in the amount of the policy's liability limits.[1]

Appellants and Progressive filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Progressive noted it made an offer of UIM coverage to Traynum on its website and Traynum electronically signed a form rejecting that offer, while Appellants argued the offer was insufficient and therefore Traynum's rejection of UIM coverage was ineffective. The trial court granted Progressive's motion for summary judgment, concluding that Progressive made a meaningful offer of UIM coverage to Traynum, which she knowingly rejected. Appellants contend this was error and ask this Court to reform Traynum's policy to include UIM coverage. We decline to do so.

II.

A.

"An appellate court reviews the granting of summary judgment under the same standard applied by the trial court . . . ." Quail Hill, L.L.C. v. Cnty. of Richland, 387 S.C. 223, 235, 692 S.E.2d 499, 505 (2010) (citing Brockbank v. Best Capital Corp., 341 S.C. 372, 379, 534 S.E.2d 688, 692 (2000)). "[A] trial court may grant a motion for summary judgment 'if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Id. at 234, 692 S.E.2d at 505 (quoting Rule 56(c), SCRCP).

Appellants' claim against Progressive is entirely predicated upon the allegation that Progressive's offer of UIM coverage was inadequate. When there is no factual dispute about its content or form, whether an offer of UIM coverage is sufficient is a question of law. See Wiegand v. U.S. Auto. Ass'n, 391 S.C. 159, 163, 705 S.E.2d 432, 434 (2011). "Appellate courts may decide questions of law with no particular deference to the [trial] court's findings." Wachovia Bank, N.A. v. Blackburn, 407 S.C. 321, 328, 755 S.E.2d 437, 441 (2014) (citing Verenes v. Alvanos, 387 S.C. 11, 15, 690 S.E.2d 771, 772–73 (2010)).

B.

In South Carolina, insurers must "offer, at the option of the insured, [UIM] coverage up to the limits of the insured liability coverage." S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-160 (2015). In the seminal case of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Wannamaker, this Court held that "the statute mandates the insured to be provided with adequate information, and in such a manner, as to allow the insured to make an intelligent decision of whether to accept or reject ...


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