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Allstate Insurance Company v. Ramos

September 27, 2001

ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, APPELLANT
v.
RUTH RAMOS, APPELLEE



Before Schwelb, Farrell, and Ruiz, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schwelb, Associate Judge

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (Hon. Brook Hedge, Trial Judge)

Argued June 1, 2001

The principal question presented in this appeal is whether the trial judge properly declined to disturb a jury award of $45,000 in favor of the plaintiff, Ruth Ramos, under the uninsured motorist provisions of a policy issued by Allstate Insurance Company to Ms. Ramos' husband, Jose Cleto Munoz. In a post-trial motion ostensibly filed pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 59 (e), Allstate alleged for the first time that the uninsured motorist protections on which Ms. Ramos based her claim were limited by the terms of the policy to $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. Ms. Ramos was the only person injured in the accident that gave rise to this suit, and Allstate requested that the verdict be reduced to conform to the limits of the policy. The judge denied Allstate's motion without a hearing. We reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

On October 27, 1996, Ms. Ramos, who was then twenty-two years of age, was riding in the passenger seat of a 1987 Nissan XE pick-up truck owned and driven by her husband when the vehicle was struck by a 1995 Isuzu operated by Scott Singleton. As a result of the collision, Ms. Ramos suffered injuries to her head, neck, and back. Mr. Munoz was insured by Allstate, and a claim was filed with Allstate pursuant to his policy.

On January 23, 1998, after negotiations with the insurer had proved fruitless, Ms. Ramos filed suit for breach of contract against Allstate. In essence, Ms. Ramos claimed that she was a third-party beneficiary of the insurance contract between her husband and Allstate, and that, under her husband's policy, she was entitled to compensation for injuries suffered as a result of the negligence of Mr. Singleton, an uninsured motorist. Mr. Munoz' policy was not attached to the complaint, and Ms. Ramos' pleading contained no reference to any limits on the amount which the policy required Allstate to pay. Ms. Ramos asked the court to award her damages of $30,000, together with the costs of the action "and any other relief that this court deem[s] just and proper."

On July 15, 1998, Ms. Ramos' attorney served Allstate with a request for admissions. Allstate responded six days later and formally admitted, inter alia, that all of the following statements were true:

1. The defendant issued an automobile liability policy to Jose Cleto Munoz.

2. The policy was in effect on 10/27/96.

3. The policy provided for uninsured motorist benefits.

4. A 1987 Nissan XE pick-up truck was a covered vehicle under the policy.

5. Mr. Munoz was involved in an accident on 10/27/96 on Sherman Avenue, N.W.[,] in the District of Columbia.

6. Mr. Munoz was driving the Nissan pick-up truck at the time of the accident.

7. Plaintiff, Ruth Ramos, was riding as a front seat passenger in the Nissan at the ...


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