Crashes involving workers on the job are fairly common, given that so many people drive as part of their employment. People injured in such crashes need to seek immediate legal counsel because there may be multiple avenues of financial recovery, and a careful legal strategy is crucial.
In one recent case before the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District, a plaintiff was left empty-handed after a lengthy legal battle that involved both litigation and arbitration.
Here, the at-fault driver was operating a work van owned by her employer, which she used for both business and personal purposes. The trial court found that the employer wasn’t vicariously liable for the plaintiff’s injuries because the defendant was not acting in the course and scope of employment at the time of the crash. The plaintiff then went through the arbitration process with the defendant driver and was awarded $500,000. However, when the plaintiff sought payment of this amount from the defendant’s personal auto insurer, the insurer refused. The plaintiff then filed another lawsuit, this one against the insurer, alleging breach of contract and bad faith. However, since the insured/driver was allowed to use the van for both personal and business purposes, the court ruled her personal use of the van wasn’t a departure from the customary use of the vehicle, and therefore her personal insurer didn’t have to pay.
All drivers should take note of this case because if you are ever at-fault in a crash like this, you should know you could be held personally liable for damages if neither insurer is willing to provide coverage for a certain use. The plaintiff may still have that option here, but often collecting damages from an individual who isn’t independently wealthy is a lost cause.
According to court records, the defendant worked for a phone company for 18 years as a facility specialist, transporting company equipment and tools. She was not allowed to use her personal vehicle to do this work, so the company provided her with access to a work van, assigned for her exclusive regular use. The van was kept at her company headquarters, but she picked it up every day for work and used it throughout the day. She was free to run personal errands in it as well. Although she never took the van home overnight, she did occasionally keep it overnight when she worked on out-of-town jobs for which she needed to stay in a hotel.
One day, while out of town on an assignment, she stopped for lunch and consumed glasses of wine. While at lunch, she got a call from her daughter about a personal emergency. She left in the work van to meet her daughter halfway to give her cash. She did not seek permission from her employer to run this errand and didn’t think she needed to do so. While on this errand, she was involved in the auto accident that resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. The defendant lost her job as a result of the crash.
The crash happened in August 2009. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit in 2011, alleging the driver was negligent and the driver’s employer was vicariously liable per the legal doctrine of respondeat superior. This doctrine, which is Latin for “let the master answer,” allows a finding of employer liability without a finding of negligence by the employer. The company would not admit to vicarious liability, but it did concede statutory liability because its employee was a permissive user of the van. Thus, it paid $15,000, which wasn’t close to covering the plaintiff’s costs.
The defendant had her own personal insurance policy but didn’t immediately notify that insurer because she assumed her employer’s carrier would provide coverage. The company wasn’t informed of the crash until 2012, when the defendant sought a defense.
However, that personal insurance coverage didn’t list the van as a covered automobile but only provided coverage for bodily injury or property damage in accidents arising out of the use of a non-owned vehicle that was not owned or furnished for the regular use of either the insured or a relative. The insurer contended the insured had regular use of this van, and therefore it didn’t have to cover the crash.
Despite the plaintiff’s success in arbitration, the trial court later sided with the insurer on this fact.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Medina v. GEICO Indemnity, Feb. 8, 2017, California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District
More Blog Entries:
Advocates: North Carolina Needs More Safety Laws, Feb. 24, 2017, Asheville Car Accident Lawyer Blog