Certification from the United States District Court for the
District of Utah The Honorable Judge Jill N. Parrish Case No.
Barbara L. Maw, Park City, for appellant
B. Young, Michael D. Esplin, Trent V. Cahill, Laura H.
Cabanilla, Provo, for appellees
Justice Durrant, Justice Durham, Justice Himonas, and Justice
Associate Chief Justice
This case comes to us on certification from the United States
District Court for the District of Utah. The questions
presented concern the proper interpretation of Utah Code
section 31A-22-303(1), which requires motor vehicle liability
insurance policies to "cover damages or injury resulting
from a covered driver of a motor vehicle" who suddenly
and unforeseeably becomes incapacitated. We interpret this
provision to impose strict liability on an insured driver,
and to limit the driver's liability to the coverage of
the applicable insurance policy.
of the Court
The personal injury claims at issue in the underlying federal
case arise out of a bus accident that happened on October 10,
2009. The bus was driven by Debra Jarvis and owned by Lake
Shore Motor Coach Lines, Inc. Jarvis experienced a sudden and
unforeseeable loss of consciousness while driving back to
Utah from a high school band competition in Idaho. Her loss
of consciousness caused the bus to leave the roadway, hit a
ravine, and roll over. Several passengers were injured in the
The injured passengers included Janna Crane, Elizabeth
Hutchison, Tiffany Thayne, and Mette Seppi. Each of these
individuals filed separate lawsuits in the Fourth Judicial
District Court in Utah seeking damages for their injuries.
Crane and Hutchison filed motions for partial summary
judgment, asserting that Lancer Insurance Co. (Lake
Shore's insurer) was strictly liable for the
passengers' injuries under Utah Code section
31A-22-303(1). Those motions were denied. In denying the
motions, the state district court rejected the strict
liability premise attributed by the passengers to Utah Code
section 31A-22-303(1). Instead, the court held that the
statute preserved the common-law "sudden
incapacity" defense, under which Jarvis would not be
liable for her sudden loss of consciousness and the injured
parties could recover only upon a showing of fault.
These state cases are still pending. But they are not the
cases before us here. For reasons not apparent on the record,
Lancer Insurance filed a separate federal case after it
succeeded in defending against the motions for summary
judgment in state court. In the federal case, Lancer sought a
declaratory judgment confirming the state district
court's interpretation of Utah Code section
31A-22-303(1)-reinforcing the conclusion that this provision
preserves the common-law "sudden incapacity"
defense and thus requires proof of fault to sustain liability
in this case.
The federal district court may have recognized the unusual
procedural posture of this case-a federal declaratory
judgment suit under review while parallel cases involving
claims for money damages are still pending in state court
(and subject to appeal). That posture presents a risk that a
declaratory judgment in federal court could be undermined by
an eventual-and conclusive- interpretation of state law by
this court. Perhaps with that in mind, the federal district
court appropriately certified the following two questions to
us: (1) whether Utah Code section 31A-22-303(1) imposes
strict liability on an insured driver for damages to third
parties resulting from the driver's unforeseeable loss of
consciousness while driving; and (2) if so, whether the
driver's liability is limited by the applicable insurance
policy or by the applicable minimum statutory limit.
We agreed to accept these certified questions. We exercise
our jurisdiction ...