may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Stephanie Rivers, f/k/a Stephanie West,
State Farm Insurance Companies,
Filed December 15, 1998
Wilkin County District Court
File No. C0-97-229
Thomas C. Athens, Svingen, Athens & Russell, 125 South Mill Street, P.O. Box 697, Fergus Falls, MN 56538-0697 (for appellant)
Steven L. Marquart, Cahill & Marquart, P.A., 403 Center Avenue, P.O. Box 1238, Moorhead, MN 56561-1238 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Crippen, Judge, and Klaphake, Judge.
Eight and one-half years after she was injured in an automobile accident, appellant Stephanie Rivers, f/k/a Stephanie West, sued her insurer, respondent State Farm Insurance Companies, for underinsured motorist benefits. The district court granted respondent's motion for summary judgment on the ground that the statute of limitations barred appellant's action. We affirm.
Appellant settled with Braun for his policy limit and then demanded that respondent pay the full amount of available underinsured motorist coverage. Respondent refused to do so. On October 24, 1997, appellant demanded that respondent arbitrate her underinsured motorist claim. Respondent replied on October 30, 1997, that it did "not agree to arbitration in this matter." Appellant sued respondent on December 4, 1998, eight and one-half years after the accident. Respondent moved for summary judgment on the ground that the six-year statute of limitations had expired prior to the commencement of the suit. The district court granted respondent's motion.
In Minnesota, claims for underinsured motorist benefits are governed by the six-year breach-of-contract statute of limitations. Minn. Stat. § 541.05, subd. 1(1) (1996); O'Neill v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Co., 381 N.W.2d 439, 440 (Minn. 1986). The statute begins to run on the date of the accident causing the injury. Id. If, however, the insurance policy contains an arbitration provision, the limitations period does not begin to run "until there has been both a demand and a refusal to arbitrate." Spira v. American Standard Ins. Co., 361 N.W.2d 454, 457 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Mar. 29, 1985).
The insurance policy at issue provides for consensual arbitration for uninsured motorist claims. The arbitration section makes repeated reference to the "uninsured motor vehicle." There is no reference whatsoever to "underinsured motor vehicle" in the arbitration section of the policy; rather, such reference occurs in a section regarding lawsuits.
Appellant argues that the policy is ambiguous and that the arbitrability of underinsured motorist claims is at least reasonably debatable. In support of her position, she argues, among other things, that even respondent thought the claim arbitrable as shown by its decision not to agree to arbitration.
As we noted in Schoenborn v. State Farm Auto. Ins. Co., 495 N.W.2d 460, 463 (Minn. App. 1993): "The plain language of the insurance contract requires enforcement according to its terms." The policy clearly provides for consensual arbitration only as to uninsured motorist claims. Arbitrability of underinsured motorist claims is not reasonably debatable under the language of this policy. We held in Schoenborn that the
* * * right to arbitrate claims * * * derives from [the insurance] contract * * *. A party cannot be ordered to submit to arbitration any dispute which it has not agreed by contract to submit.
The plain language of appellant's insurance policy compels the conclusion that the parties did not agree to submit underinsured motorist claims to arbitration. Thus, the statute of limitations began to run on the day of appellant's accident and expired six years later. Appellant started her action beyond that six-year period.