Romprey v. Safeco Insurance Company of America
Defendants moving for summary judgment under the timeliness provisions in the underinsured motorist statute, Connecticut General Statutes §38a-336(g)(1), should have the initial burden of demonstrating the nonexistence of a genuine issue of material fact with respect to both the three year limitation period and the statute's compulsory tolling provision. Dolly Romprey allegedly sustained injuries in a motor vehicle accident caused by Donna Kempton's negligence. More than three years later, Dolly and Peter Romprey commenced this action seeking underinsured motorist benefits from their insurer, Safeco Insurance Company of America. The trial court granted summary judgment to Safeco. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The plaintiffs appealed, first contending that the trial court improperly rendered summary judgment based on the plaintiffs' failure to satisfy the threshold requirement that their claim involved an underinsured vehicle. The majority of the Supreme Court agreed and reversed the Appellate Court's judgment. Under the policy and C.G.S. §38a-336(g)(1), any action for underinsured motorist benefits commenced more than three years after the underlying accident is untimely, unless the plaintiff notifies the insurer of the claim within three years of the accident and commences an action or demands arbitration within 180 days of the exhaustion of the limits of liability. Whether the plaintiffs exhausted the limits of Kempton's insurance policy was disputed. Accordingly, the defendant's motion should not have been granted on this ground. The plaintiffs additionally argued that by requiring them to submit evidence that they met the requirements of the statutory tolling provision in C.G.S. §38a-336(g)(1), the trial court improperly shifted to them the burden of proving an issue regarding which the defendant had not demonstrated the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. The majority agreed. The plaintiffs did not have the burden of demonstrating the existence of a disputed issue of material fact regarding the statutory tolling provision, when the defendant failed to introduce any evidence demonstrating that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the plaintiffs failed to comply with the tolling provisions in its motion for summary judgment. Unlike common-law exceptions to the statutes of limitations, the tolling provision in C.G.S. §38a-336(g)(1) expressly provides for an alternate way for the plaintiff to proceed in a timely manner. Justice McDonald, with whom Justice Zarella joined, dissented.