Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Warren County, Paul R. Huscher, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Danilson, J.
Metropolitan appeals denial of its motion for summary judgment, disclaiming its duty to defend and indemnify its insured, pursuant to a policy exclusion. Cowies cross-appeal, challenging the district court determination that Metropolitan's duty was limited to indemnifying its insured for damages resulting from non-vehicular causes. AFFIRMED ON APPEAL; AFFIRMED WITH DIRECTIONS ON CROSS-APPEAL.
Heard by Doyle, P.J., and Danilson and Mullins, JJ.
This is an appeal from a ruling on the parties' motions for summary judgment concerning the applicability of an exclusion in a homeowner's insurance policy. John McCarty attempted to free a tractor, which was stuck in the mud in his backyard, by attaching a chain and towing it with his truck. The tractor overturned, injuring his neighbor, Douglas Cowie. Cowie filed a personal injury action against the McCartys, who assigned their right to recover from their homeowner's insurance policy to the Cowies. Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Metropolitan) disclaims a duty to defend and indemnify its insured, John and Leesa McCarty, pursuant to a motor-vehicle exclusion in the policy. Because both claims of non-vehicular negligence and vehicular negligence exist, the district court correctly denied Metropolitan's motion for summary judgment. However, to the extent that the district court ruling could be interpreted to limit Metropolitan's liability to indemnify its insured for only those damages proximately caused by non-vehicle negligence, we require Metropolitan to both defend and indemnify for all damages caused by the insured's negligence unless the vehicle-related negligence is the sole proximate cause of Cowies' injuries.
I. Background Facts and Proceedings.
Douglas Cowie was helping his neighbors, John and Leesa McCarty, landscape their property when Cowie's tractor got stuck in mud. John McCarty attached a chain between his pickup and the front-end scoop of Cowie's tractor, and attempted to pull the tractor from the left side, at roughly a ninety-degree angle. The tractor tipped over and fell on top of Cowie, at which point gasoline ignited and resulted in burns to more than fifty percent of Cowie's body.
Cowie and his wife filed a negligence action against the McCartys, alleging three claims of negligence. First, they claimed McCarty "pulled with such force and in such a direction" as to cause the tractor to tip over. Next, they allege that while "attaching the chain to the tractor defendant, John McCarty, failed to use ordinary care." Finally, Cowies assert that while "utilizing the truck to pull the tractor Defendant, John McCarty, failed to use ordinary care."
The McCartys submitted a claim to their homeowner's insurer, Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Metropolitan), demanding that it defend and indemnify them for any liability arising from the Cowies' suit. The McCarty's subsequently assigned to the Cowies their right to proceed against Metropolitan for the homeowner's coverage. Metropolitan filed a petition for declaratory judgment seeking a determination that coverage for the accident was precluded under the policy's motorized land vehicle exclusion.
The parties do not dispute that the pickup used by McCarty was a motorized land vehicle. The question presented is whether the use was of a nature excluded by the policy. The exclusion provision reads, in pertinent part: "Motorized Land Vehicles. We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of . . . the ownership, maintenance, occupancy, operation, use, loading or unloading of a motorized land vehicle or trailer owned or operated by or rented or loaned to you."
In its ruling on the parties' cross motions for summary judgment, the district court found that claims of negligence arising out of the use or operation of the vehicle would be excluded from coverage under the homeowner's policy, but that claims based on non-vehicle negligence, such as negligence in the manner of attaching the chain to the tractor or in the direction or angle of the pull, would be covered. The court ruled that Metropolitan had a duty to defend, "but its liability to indemnify extends only to those damages proximately caused by the non-vehicle negligence, if any" and the extent of its liability would be determined by the fact-finder in the Cowies' underlying tort action.
On appeal, Metropolitan contends a pickup truck towing a tractor is a "use" of a motor vehicle and is excluded from coverage under the policy's motorized land vehicle exclusion. It claims the velocity which caused the tractor to tip over came from the pickup truck; therefore, the alleged negligence is solely vehicle related. It asserts that the manner of attaching the chain from the hitch of the pickup to the tractor is also part of the "use" of the pickup. Metropolitan further claims the act of connecting the chain to the tractor is inextricably linked with the operation of the pickup such that there is no independent act of non-vehicle negligence.
In their cross-appeal the Cowies contend Metropolitan has a duty to defend and to indemnify for the entirety of its insured's negligence unless the sole proximate cause of the injury was motor vehicle related. They argue the district court erred in suggesting the fact-finder in the tort action would need to apportion damages between those caused by the negligent operation of a motor vehicle and those caused by non-vehicle negligence.
Although this action was filed in equity, interpretation of an insurance policy is a matter of law to be resolved by the court when, as here, neither party offers extrinsic evidence about the meaning of the policy's language. Kalell v. Mut. Fire & Auto. Ins. Co., 471 N.W.2d 865, 866-67 (Iowa 1991). If ambiguous, policy exclusions are strictly construed against the insurer. Id. at 867. The insurer has the burden to prove applicability of the exclusion. Id. We construe coverage exclusions narrowly. Id. at 867. Moreover, we review the district court's ruling on summary judgment for correction of errors at law. Mueller v. Wellmark, Inc., 818 N.W.2d 244, 253 (Iowa 2012). Summary judgment is proper if, when ...