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Williams v. Hawkins

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

November 30, 2018

TRACIE WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
KATELIN HAWKINS, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF CHARLOTTE HAWKINS APPELLEE

          APPEAL FROM BULLITT CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE RODNEY BURRESS, JUDGE ACTION NO. 17-CI-00492

          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: Jeffrey T. Sampson Louisville, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Eric G. Farris Joe M. Mills Shepherdsville, Kentucky

          BEFORE: KRAMER, J. LAMBERT, AND NICKELL, JUDGES.

          OPINION AFFIRMING

          NICKELL, JUDGE:

         Tracie Williams appeals from an order of the Bullitt Circuit Court dismissing her complaint against Katelin Hawkins, Administratix of the Estate of Charlotte Hawkins ("Hawkins"). Williams contends Hawkins should be estopped from asserting a statute of limitations defense for failure to disclose Charlotte Hawkins' ("Charlotte") death and because no viable legal entity was available for suit before the limitations expired. After careful review of the briefs and law, and discerning no error, we affirm.

         On March 3, 2015, Williams and Charlotte were involved in a motor vehicle accident. On July 1, 2015, Williams' counsel wrote Charlotte advising her of Williams' representation and requesting she forward the letter to her insurance carrier. On July 22, 2015, Jill Benningfield, a Kentucky Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company ("KFB") claims adjuster, responded and requested Williams' counsel direct further correspondence concerning the claim to her. This and subsequent letters listed KFB's insured as Charlotte's husband, William Hawkins. Benningfield and Williams' counsel periodically exchanged pre-suit correspondence regarding Williams' injuries and medical expenses. Neither knew Charlotte passed away on October 16, 2015, nor did they know Charlotte's husband petitioned the Bullitt District Probate Court to dispense with administration of Charlotte's Estate, which was granted on November 24, 2015.

         Williams filed suit against Charlotte on February 16, 2017. On February 27, 2017, KFB assigned defense counsel. On March 2, 2017, as a result of a CourtNet search, Charlotte's counsel learned Charlotte was deceased and notified Williams' counsel the same day. Charlotte's counsel moved to dismiss the action, and on April 19, 2017, Bullitt Circuit Court Action No. 17-CI-00170 was dismissed as a legal nullity.

         On March 30, 2017, Williams' counsel moved the Bullitt District Probate Court to reopen Charlotte's Estate, which was subsequently granted. Williams filed the instant suit against Charlotte's Estate on May 25, 2017, in Bullitt Circuit Court Action No. 17-CI-00492. Hawkins moved to dismiss the action because it was filed outside the two-year statute of limitations imposed by the Kentucky Motor Vehicle Reparations Act (KMVRA). KRS[1] 304.39-230(6). After a hearing, the trial court dismissed the action for failure to file within the limitations period. This appeal followed.

         On appeal, Williams presents two arguments. First, she asserts KFB's failure to disclose Charlotte's death estops application of the statute of limitations. Second, she contends it is inherently inequitable for a party to have no way to sue before the statute of limitations expires. Although Williams cites Gailor v. Alsabi, 990 S.W.2d 597 (Ky. 1999), and Harris v. Jackson, 192 S.W.3d 297 (Ky. 2006), as modified (May 24, 2006), to support her arguments, these cases compel the same conclusions reached by the trial court.

         The Supreme Court of Kentucky defined the appellate standard of review of a motion to dismiss as:

[a] motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted admits as true the material facts of the complaint. So a court should not grant such a motion unless it appears the pleading party would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts which could be proved. . . . Stated another way, the court must ask if the facts alleged in the complaint can be proved, would the plaintiff be entitled to relief? Since a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted is a pure question of law, a reviewing court owes no deference to a trial court's determination; instead, an appellate court reviews the issue de novo.

Fox v. Grayson, 317 S.W.3d 1, 7 (Ky. 2010) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). The date on which the two-year statute of limitations, pursuant to KRS 304.39-230(6), began to run is also a question of law, not fact; therefore, our standard of review on that issue is also ...


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