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Nau v. Safeco Insurance Co. of Illinois

Court of Appeals of Utah

March 9, 2017

Nani Nau, Appellant,
v.
Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois, Appellee.

         Fourth District Court, Provo Department The Honorable Derek P. Pullan No. 140400338

          Nathan E. Burdsal and Hutch U. Fale, Attorneys for Appellant.

          Nathan R. Skeen, Attorney for Appellee.

          Judge Stephen L. Roth authored this Opinion, in which Judges Gregory K. Orme and J. Frederic Voros Jr. concurred.

          OPINION

          ROTH, Judge.

         ¶1 Nani Nau appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Safeco Insurance Company of Illinois (Safeco) on his uninsured motorist claim. We affirm.

         ¶2 In February 2014, Mr. Nau was driving in the far left lane of I-15 near Draper, Utah when his tire ruptured. He lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the median, suffering serious injury.

         ¶3 According to Mr. Nau, the tire ruptured because he ran over debris in the road that looked like a piece of concrete, rubber, or carpet approximately two to three feet wide. Mr. Nau's wife was also in the vehicle at the time of the crash, but she was not looking at the road and therefore did not see the debris. Nevertheless, she recalled hearing her husband exclaim, "oh, " and feeling the car run over something just before he lost control of the vehicle.

         ¶4 Mr. Nau filed a claim with his insurance agency, Safeco, pursuant to the uninsured motorist provisions of his insurance policy under the theory that an unidentified motorist was the cause of the debris on the highway and thus the cause of the accident. Safeco denied the claim, and Mr. Nau filed a complaint in district court.

         ¶5 Safeco moved for summary judgment on the ground that Mr. Nau could not meet his burden of proof under Utah law. Mr. Nau responded that his and his wife's statements together raised a genuine issue of fact as to whether there was debris on the road and that the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should be applied to establish the inference that the debris was left by an uninsured motor vehicle.

         ¶6 The district court granted Safeco's motion for summary judgment, concluding that the evidence was speculative as to whether there was debris on the road and as to whether it was left by an uninsured motor vehicle. Mr. Nau appeals.

         ¶7 "We review a district court's grant of summary judgment for correctness, giving no deference to its conclusions of law. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Flowell Elec. Ass'n, Inc. v. Rhodes Pump, LLC, 2015 UT 87, ¶ 8, 361 P.3d 91 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         ¶8 For purposes of our analysis, we assume that Mr. Nau's and his wife's statements raised a genuine issue of material fact as to the existence of the debris.[1] However, because we conclude that Mr. Nau's evidence could not establish that the debris was left by an uninsured motorist under the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur, we ultimately affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of Safeco.

         ¶9 Under Utah law, the definition of an "uninsured motor vehicle" includes "an unidentified motor vehicle that left the scene of an accident proximately caused by the motor vehicle operator." Utah Code Ann. § 31A-22-305(2)(b) (LexisNexis 2014). However, to prove that such a vehicle caused an accident, the claimant must "show the existence of the uninsured motor vehicle by clear and convincing evidence ...


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