On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-3370-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted November 30, 2010
Before Judges Skillman and Yannotti.
Plaintiff Jennifer L. Blake appeals from orders entered by the Law Division on January 22, 2010, which granted summary judgment in favor of defendant GEICO Insurance Company (GEICO) and denied plaintiff's motion for leave to file a claim against GEICO. We affirm.
On July 5, 2007, plaintiff was driving a motor vehicle on Evesham Road in Voorhees, New Jersey when her automobile was struck in the rear by a vehicle operated by defendant Linda M. Bianchi (Bianchi). At the time, plaintiff was residing in the home of her parents.
Plaintiff had automobile insurance under a policy issued by GEICO, with underinsured motor (UIM) coverage in the amount of $15,000. Bianchi was insured by GEICO. Her policy provided liability coverage in the amount of $15,000. Plaintiff's parents were also insured under a GEICO policy, with UIM coverage of $100,000. On October 11, 2007, plaintiff asserted a claim for UIM coverage under her parents' policy.
Plaintiff filed this action against Bianchi on July 27, 2008. In October 2008, GEICO moved to intervene in the action pursuant to Zirger v. Gen. Accident Ins. Co., 144 N.J. 327 (1996). Among other defenses raised in its pleading, GEICO asserted that plaintiff's claim for UIM benefits was "barred by and are subject to the limitation of the polic[y] of insurance."
The time for discovery in this matter ended on October 19, 2009. On December 10, 2009, GEICO offered plaintiff the policy limits under Bianchi's policy in settlement of plaintiff's claims. On December 11, 2009, GEICO filed a motion for summary judgment and argued that plaintiff was not entitled to UIM coverage under her parents' auto insurance policy.
Plaintiff opposed GEICO's motion. Plaintiff argued that GEICO should be estopped from denying coverage because it allegedly breached its fiduciary duty to handle her claim in good faith and unreasonably delayed in disclaiming coverage. Plaintiff also filed a cross-motion seeking leave to file a bad faith claim against GEICO.
The trial court considered the motions on January 22, 2010, and placed its decision on the record on that date. The court concluded that GEICO was entitled to summary judgment and there was no factual or legal basis for the assertion by plaintiff of a bad faith claim against GEICO. The court entered orders granting GEICO's summary judgment motion and denying plaintiff's motion for leave to file a claim against GEICO. This appeal followed.
Plaintiff argues that the trial court erred by granting summary judgment in GEICO's favor. Plaintiff contends that GEICO breached its fiduciary duty to act in good faith by failing to affirm or deny her claim for UIM benefits under her parents' policy within a reasonable time. Plaintiff therefore contends that GEICO should be estopped from denying her claim. Plaintiff also argues that because GEICO breached its fiduciary duty, the trial court should have permitted her to file a bad faith claim against GEICO. We disagree.
Plaintiff concedes that she is not entitled to coverage under the plain language of her parents' policy. The policy defines the term "insured" to include the policyholder and his or her spouse, if a resident of the same household. The term "insured" also is defined to include a relative if a resident of the policyholder's household. The policy excludes, however, coverage for any "bodily injury sustained by an insured while occupying a motor vehicle owned by an insured and not described in the Declarations and not covered by the Bodily Injury and Property Damage liability coverages of this policy."
It is undisputed that plaintiff's parents are the policyholders and plaintiff was residing in their household at the time of the accident. Therefore, plaintiff met the definition of an "insured" under her parents' policy. However, plaintiff's claim was not covered because it arose from injuries that she sustained in an accident that occurred while she was occupying her own motor vehicle, which was ...