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Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co. v. Walls

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

June 5, 2019

Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Appellant,
v.
Sharmin Christine Walls, Randi Harper, Wendy Timms in her capacity as Personal Representative of The Estate of Christopher Adam Timms, Deborah Timms, Defendants, Of whom, Sharmin Christine Walls, Randi Harper, and Wendy Timms in her capacity as Personal Representative of The Estate of Christopher Adam Timms, are the Respondents. Appellate Case No. 2016-000679

          Heard October 3, 2018

          Appeal From Anderson County J. Cordell Maddox, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          John Robert Murphy and Wesley Brian Sawyer, both of Murphy & Grantland, PA, of Columbia, for Appellant.

          John Kirkman Moorhead, of Krause Moorhead & Draisen, PA, of Anderson, for Respondent Randi Harper.

          Milford Oliver Howard, III, of Howard Law Firm, P.A. of Greenville, for Respondent Wendy Timms.

          Michael F. Mullinax, of Mullinax Law Firm, P.A., of Anderson, for Respondent Sharmin Christine Walls.

          LOCKEMY, C.J.

         Following a police chase that ended in a deadly single-car accident, Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Company brought a declaratory judgment action against Sharmin Walls, Randi Harper, and the estate of Christopher Timms (collectively, Respondents) to determine the amount due under an automobile liability policy. The trial court found Nationwide must provide the policy's maximum coverage of $300, 000, despite policy exclusions that reduced coverage to the statutory minimum limit of $50, 000 per occurrence when an accident occurred while committing a felony or fleeing law enforcement. On appeal, Nationwide argues the trial court erred in finding the exclusions violated public policy and were therefore unenforceable. We reverse.

         FACTS

         The facts of this case are not in dispute. On July 11, 2008, Respondents were passengers in a vehicle owned by Walls and being driven by Korey Mayfield. When a state highway patrol officer attempted to stop the vehicle for speeding, Mayfield ignored the passengers' request to pull over and instead accelerated down the highway. Mayfield led the officer on a high-speed chase-at one point reaching a speed of 109 miles per hour-before exiting the highway and speeding down a residential road. The officer then terminated his pursuit. Approximately one mile from where the chase ended, however, Mayfield lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a group of trees.[1] Timms was killed in the collision, while Mayfield, Harper, and Walls suffered catastrophic injuries. Mayfield was ultimately charged with and pled guilty to reckless homicide, a felony.

         At the time of the crash, Walls was a named insured on a Nationwide insurance policy with liability coverage of $100, 000 per person and $300, 000 per accident. With respect to the liability coverage, the policy contained the following provision:

This coverage does not apply, with regard to any amount above the minimum limits required by the South Carolina Financial Responsibility Law [(MVFRA)][2] as of the date of the loss, to:
6. Bodily injury or property damage caused by:
a) you;
b) a relative; ...

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