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Egly v. Farmers Insurance Exchange

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

February 15, 2018

Victor Egly, Appellant
v.
Farmers Insurance Exchange a/k/a Farmers Insurance, Appellee

         FROM THE COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 2 OF TRAVIS COUNTY, NO. C-1-CV-16-005714, HONORABLE TODD T. WONG, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Goodwin and Field

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Scott K. Field, Justice

         Victor Egly appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Farmers Insurance Exchange a/k/a Farmers Insurance (Farmers). In two issues, Egly contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Farmers did not establish as a matter of law that it had no duty to defend a suit brought by Egly against the driver of a vehicle insured by Farmers. We will affirm the trial court's final summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         The following facts are undisputed. Ismael Hernandez was involved in a collision with Egly while driving a vehicle insured under an automobile liability policy issued by Farmers. Egly sued Hernandez for negligence. Hernandez never notified Farmers of the suit. However, Egly's attorney sent several messages to Farmers informing them of the suit. In one message, Egly's attorney warned Farmers that Egly would obtain a default judgment against Hernandez if no answer was filed. Farmers sent messages to Hernandez inquiring about the case, but Hernandez never responded to those messages.

         Egly obtained a default judgment against Hernandez. He then sued Farmers, seeking payment of the default judgment as a third-party beneficiary to the vehicle's insurance policy. Farmers filed a traditional motion for summary judgment, arguing that it had established as a matter of law that it had no duty to defend the suit against Hernandez, and therefore no duty to pay Egly, because Hernandez never informed Farmers of the suit as required by the policy. The trial court rendered a final summary judgment in Farmers' favor, and this appeal followed.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         We review a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary judgment de novo. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Rincones, 520 S.W.3d 572, 579 (Tex. 2017) (citing Valence Operating Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005)). Traditional summary judgment is proper only if the movant establishes that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c).

         This case requires us to interpret an insurance policy. We interpret insurance policies as we do other contracts. See Great Am. Ins. Co. v. Primo, 512 S.W.3d 890, 892 (Tex. 2017). "The goal of contract interpretation is to ascertain the parties' true intent as expressed by the plain language they used." Id. at 893. "If the language lends itself to a clear and definite legal meaning, the contract is not ambiguous and will be construed as a matter of law." Id.

         DISCUSSION

         In his appellate issues, Egly contends that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because Farmers did not establish as a matter of law that it had no duty to defend his suit against Hernandez. The insurance policy included the following provisions:

A. We [Farmers] must be notified promptly of how, when and where the accident or loss happened. Notice should also include the names and addresses of any injured persons and of any witnesses. If we show that your failure to provide notice prejudices ...

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