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Phillips v. Farmers Insurance Company, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

July 23, 2019

MARILYN ANN PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
v.
FARMERS INSURANCE COMPANY, INC., Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL, CHIEF JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.

         I. Background

         The plaintiff, Marilyn Ann Phillips, was injured in a motor vehicle accident on August 27, 2012. The other driver, Dianne Rooker, was found to be at fault. Ms. Rooker carried automobile liability insurance with a policy limit of $100, 000, and her insurance carrier tendered an offer to Ms. Phillips for those policy limits. Ms. Phillips carried $1, 000, 000 in uninsured / underinsured motorist (UM) coverage through policies issued by the defendant, Farmers Insurance Company, Inc. (Farmers).

         After receiving the $100, 000 offer from Ms. Rooker's liability insurance carrier, Ms. Phillips notified Farmers of the offer. Farmers responded that it would waive its subrogation rights so that Ms. Phillips could receive the $100, 000 payment. Ms. Phillips was thus paid that amount by Rooker's liability carrier. Subsequently, after taking sworn statements from Ms. Phillips and one of her treating doctors, Farmers paid Ms. Phillips $84, 165.00 in UM benefits. Ms. Phillips then initiated this action in state court by the filing of a Petition on August 28, 2017. (Doc. 2 at 4). She asserted a contract claim against Farmers and alleged that Farmers had not sufficiently paid UM benefits to compensate for her damages. (See id.). Prior to trial, the parties entered numerous stipulations that would significantly impact the presentation of the case to a jury. They stipulated, among other things, to the following:

. “The tortfeasor, Dianne Rooker, had an insurance policy providing liability limits of $100, 000, which has been paid to the Plaintiff” (Doc. 54 at 1).
. “The [Farmers policies] provided [a] total of $1, 000, 000 in UM/UIM coverage. From that coverage, Farmers has paid $84, 165 to Ms. Phillips, leaving $915, 835 in available [UM] coverage” (Id.).
. “[N]o comment or evidence will be introduced at trial in regard to the coverage and policy limits of the tortfeasor's insurance policy and the UM/UIM limits of the polices issued by Farmers.” (Id.).
. “[T]here will be no comment or evidence introduced in regard to payment to Plaintiff from the tortfeasor's insurance policy and from the UM/UIM coverage and the policies issued by Farmers ” (Id.).
. “The parties stipulate that to determine the amount of a judgment to be entered in favor of the Plaintiff and against the Defendant, the Court must first subtract $184, 165 from the verdict, and must then apply a cap on damages in the amount of $915, 835.” (Id. at 2).

         The parties' Amended Stipulations were filed on April 4, 2019, the day before the Pretrial Conference.

         On April 5, 2019, following the Pretrial Conference, the Court signed and filed the Pretrial Order, which had been submitted by the parties. In the Pretrial Order, the parties agreed that the issues of fact to be litigated at trial included “[t]he amount of actual damages to fairly and justly compensate Plaintiff . . . for injuries caused by the August 27, 2012 wreck taking into account all elements of damages to which she is entitled under Oklahoma law.” (Doc. 56 at 5).

         With the jury trial set to commence on June 19, 2019, Ms. Phillips filed a Motion to Amend Joint Stipulation on May 30, 2019. (Doc. 72). She asked the Court to “amend” the parties' amended stipulations based on her assertion that her stipulation to subtract $184, 165 from the verdict was “entered into by the Plaintiff based on an erroneous interpretation of [Okla. Stat. tit. 36, ] § 3636.” (Id. at 1). Ms. Phillips represented that, since stipulating to the subtraction of the $184, 165 from the jury verdict, her counsel had “researched the matter thoroughly” and “believes Oklahoma law does not allow Farmers to get credit for the $100, 000 paid by Dianne Rooker's insurance company because Farmers did not substitute its payment for that of Ms. Rooker's insurance company.” (Id.). Plaintiff thus “contend[ed] that substitution of payment is a prerequisite for Farmers to reduce the verdict by $100, 000.” (Id.).

         After considering Ms. Phillips's request to “amend” the parties' amended stipulations, as well as the response filed by Farmers (Doc. 73) and Phillips's reply (Doc. 74), the Court denied Ms. Phillips's request by entering a Minute Order:

The plaintiff's Motion to Amend Joint Stipulation (Doc. 72) is denied. The plaintiff's argument ignores the purpose and language of the applicable statute and contractual underinsured motorist coverage, which covers damages above the limits of a tortfeasor's insurance coverage. The cases cited by plaintiff are inapposite. In Barnes v. Oklahoma Farm Bur. Mut. Ins. Co., 11 P.3d 162 (Okla. 2000), the issue involved the insurer claiming its own underinsured motorist coverage LIMIT was reduced by the amount of the underinsured tortfeasor's insurance limit, and the insurer's argument was directly contrary to the language of the statute. Weatherly v. Flournoy, 929 P.2d 296 (Okla.Civ.App. 1996) involved a tortfeasor's attempt to receive credit for earlier payments made by the plaintiff's insurer under an uninsured motorist policy. That is not similar to this case. An insurer's underinsured motorist policy covers the amount of damages that exceed the liability limit of the tortfeasor's insurance and that is what is at issue in this case.

(Doc. 76).

         The case proceeded to trial on the issue of the total amount of Ms. Phillips's damages. Consistent with the manner in which the parties had arranged the case for trial, the Court instructed the jury that “[t]he issues you must decide in this case are (1) what injuries to Ms. Phillips were directly caused by the car wreck and (2) what amount of money will reasonably and fairly compensate Ms. Phillips for those injuries.” (Doc. 87 at 4 [Jury Instruction No. 3]). In accord with Ms. Phillips's repeated representations that she was “not asking for damages for past medical bills” (Doc. 38; see also Doc. 47 at 2; Doc. 55 at 4-5), the jury was instructed that the plaintiff was not seeking expenses for past medical care. (See Doc. 87 at 16 [Jury Instruction No. 15]).

         The Jury Instruction regarding the measure of damages also did not include future medical expenses, as her counsel volunteered at the jury instruction conference that he had not presented any evidence of future medical expenses and thus the jury instruction should not include such expenses in the categories of damages to be considered by the jury. (See id.). The jury was ultimately instructed that it “must fix the amount of plaintiff's damages, ” which “is the amount of money that will reasonably and fairly compensate [her] for the injury or injuries that were directly caused by the car wreck involved in this case.” (Id.).

         The jury returned a verdict stating: “We, the jury, empaneled and sworn in the above-entitled case, do, upon our oaths, fix the dollar amount of plaintiff's damages in the sum of $237, 500.00.” (Doc. 88). Following the conclusion of trial, the Court entered Judgment (Doc. 89), stating in relevant part:

In accordance with the jury's verdict fixing plaintiff's damages in the amount of $237, 500.00 (Doc. 88) and the parties' stipulation that “the Court must first subtract $184, 165.00 from the verdict” (Doc. 54), final judgment is hereby entered in favor of the plaintiff, Marilyn Ann Phillips, ...

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