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Cothran v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co.

Supreme Court of South Carolina

August 7, 2019

Wadette Cothran and Chris Cothran, Petitioners,
v.
State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and Robert Tucker, Defendants, of which State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company is the Respondent. Appellate Case No. 2018-000235

          Heard May 29, 2019

          Appeal from Spartanburg County L. Casey Manning, Circuit Court Judge.

         ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS

          Charles Logan Rollins II, Hawkins Law Firm, of Spartanburg, for Petitioners.

          Robert William Whelan, Charles R. Norris, of Charleston, and C. Mitchell Brown, of Columbia, all of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, LLP, for Respondent.

          FEW JUSTICE.

         Section 38-77-144 of the South Carolina Code (2015) provides that no-fault personal injury protection (PIP) insurance coverage "is not subject to a setoff." This appeal requires us to consider whether section 38-77-144 prohibits an automobile insurance carrier from reducing its obligation to pay PIP benefits to its insured by the amount of workers' compensation benefits the insured received for medical expenses. We hold that it does.

         I. Facts and Procedural History

         Wadette Cothran incurred approximately $40, 000 in medical expenses from injuries she received in an automobile accident. Her employer's workers' compensation carrier paid all of her medical expenses. She was also covered by her automobile insurance policy issued to her and her husband Chris by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company. The State Farm policy provided PIP coverage with a limit of $5, 000. However, State Farm refused to pay her any PIP benefits for medical expenses based on a "Workers' Compensation Coordination" provision in the policy. The "Coordination" provision states,

Any Personal Injury Protection Coverage provided by this policy applies as excess over any benefits recovered under any workers' compensation law or any other similar law.

         The Cothrans filed this lawsuit against State Farm alleging breach of contract and bad faith refusal to pay insurance benefits.

         The circuit court granted summary judgment to the Cothrans on the breach of contract claim, finding the "Coordination" provision violated section 38-77-144. The court of appeals reversed. Cothran v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 421 S.C. 562, 808 S.E.2d 824 (Ct. App. 2017). We granted the Cothrans' petition for a writ of certiorari. We reverse the court of appeals, and reinstate the summary judgment.

         II. Section 38-77-144

         We begin with the text of section 38-77-144.

There is no personal injury protection (PIP) coverage mandated under the automobile insurance laws of this State. Any reference to personal injury protection in Title 38 or 56 or elsewhere is deleted. If an insurer sells no-fault insurance coverage which provides personal injury protection, medical payment coverage, or economic loss coverage, ...

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