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Nationwide Insurance Company of America v. Knight

Court of Appeals of South Carolina

October 2, 2019

Nationwide Insurance Company of America, Respondent,
v.
Kristina Knight, individually and as Personal Representative of the Estate of Daniel P. Knight, Appellant. Appellate Case No. 2017-001348

          Heard June 4, 2019

          Appeal From Greenville County William H. Seals, Jr., Circuit Court Judge

          Edwin L. Turnage, of Harris & Graves, PA, of Greenville, for Appellant.

          Wesley Brian Sawyer and Adam J. Neil, both of Murphy & Grantland, PA, of Columbia, for Respondent.

          McDONALD, J.

         In this declaratory judgment action to determine whether underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage exists under an automobile insurance policy, Kristina Knight (Knight), individually and as personal representative of the estate of Daniel Knight (Decedent), appeals the circuit court's order granting summary judgment to Nationwide Insurance Company of America (Nationwide). Knight argues South Carolina's excluded driver statute, section 38-77-340 of the South Carolina Code (2015), and public policy considerations prohibit an insurer from excluding a resident relative from uninsured motorist (UM) or underinsured motorist (UIM) coverage, even when the policyholder has executed an endorsement intentionally excluding the resident relative from "all coverages in [the] policy." We affirm the circuit court's order granting summary judgment.

         Facts and Procedural History

         On May 22, 2014, Knight applied for a Nationwide automobile insurance policy (the Policy) and completed an endorsement (Excluded Driver Endorsement) listing Decedent as an individual excluded from coverage under the Policy.[1] The Excluded Driver Endorsement states, "With this endorsement, all coverages in your policy are not in effect while Danny Knight is operating any motor vehicle." Knight signed this page, on which she also checked the box confirming "the excluded person has obtained insurance or other security to operate motor vehicles."

         On December 4, 2015, Nationwide issued the Policy to Knight, who was then engaged to Decedent. The Policy insured a 1996 Ford Ranger and was effective from December 4, 2015, through June 4, 2016. Decedent and Knight married later in December 2015.

         On February 2, 2016, a vehicle struck and killed Decedent while he was riding his motorcycle. Decedent's estate collected from the at-fault driver's liability coverage, Decedent's motorcycle policy, and Decedent's UIM coverage from his own automobile policy. Knight subsequently made a claim with Nationwide, seeking to stack her Policy's UIM limits with the other coverages. It is undisputed that the damages here exceed the coverage limits of the Policy.

         Nationwide filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration "that it is not required to provide any coverage, including but not limited to underinsured motorist coverage," for any claim "made on account of the February 2, 2016 accident." Knight answered and counterclaimed for breach of contract.

         Nationwide moved for summary judgment; Knight filed a cross motion for summary judgment, arguing Nationwide's "insurance policy and [Excluded Driver] endorsement violate the public policy of the State of South Carolina." The circuit court heard the motions on May 22, 2017, and subsequently granted Nationwide's motion for summary judgment.

         Standard of Review

         "Because declaratory judgment actions are neither legal nor equitable, the standard of review depends on the nature of the underlying issues." Goldston v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 358 S.C. 157, 166, 594 S.E.2d 511, 516 (Ct. App. 2004). "When the purpose of the underlying dispute is to determine whether coverage exists under an insurance policy, the action is one at law." Williams v. Gov't Employees Ins. Co. (GEICO), 409 S.C. 586, 593, 762 S.E.2d 705, ...


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