Garcia v. City of Bridgeport
Under Connecticut's statutory insurance scheme, a self-insurer is deemed to provide the minimum statutory underinsured motorist coverage of $20,000 per accident and $40,000 per occurrence for the benefit of occupants of its private passenger motor vehicles. Carlos Garcia was seriously injured in a motor vehicle accident caused by a third party while acting in the scope of his employment with the city of Bridgeport. The tortfeasor's liability insurer paid Garcia $20,000, the per person policy limit. Garcia's automobile liability insurer paid him an additional $30,000. Garcia sought coverage for his remaining damages from Bridgeport. Bridgeport, self-insured under C.G.S. §38a-371(c) and §14-129, denied Garcia's claim citing a $20,000 per person limit to underinsured motorist coverage under its plan and an offset for amounts paid by other insurers. Garcia brought an action against Bridgeport for underinsured motorist benefits and sought a declaratory judgment. The trial court rendered judgment for the city in the declaratory judgment action, determining the limits of the underinsured motorist coverage to be the statutory minimum of $20,000 per person and $40,000 per occurrence based on a purported request by the city pursuant to C.G.S. §38a-336(a)(2) for lesser coverage. The plaintiff appealed raising the issue of whether a self-insured municipality by virtue of its unlimited liability is deemed to provide unlimited underinsured motorist coverage absent a pre-accident writing requesting lesser coverage limits in conformity with C.G.S. §38a-336(a)(2). The Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's judgment albeit under different reasoning. Although the Court agreed with Garcia that the application relied upon by the trial court could not be construed as a request for lesser underinsured motorist coverage under C.G.S. §38a-336(a)(2), the panel agreed with the city that, even absent a request for lesser underinsured motorist coverage, a self-insurer's underinsured motorist coverage limits are those provided by C.G.S. §14-112. It would be counterintuitive to require a self-insurer to make a request for lesser coverage under C.G.S. §38a-336(a)(2), because such treatment would be inconsistent with substantive differences between self-insurance and commercial insurance. C.G.S. §38a-336(a)(2) is a notice statute requiring the insurer to obtain the insured's informed consent. A self-insurer is both the insurer and the insured. A construction of the statute that requires an equivalent notice by a self-insurer and a corresponding request by a self-insured is untenable and unnecessary.