Can an Accident Victim Intervene in a Lawsuit Between the Negligent Driver and His Insurance Company?
When you sue a negligent driver for injuries arising from a car accident, in most cases you are effectively suing that driver’s insurance company, which will likely be on the hook for any judgment you obtain. The problem is that insurance companies are quite adept at denying coverage, particularly in situations where the insured driver does not fully cooperate with the insurer’s investigation into the accident. And in some cases, this dispute between the insurer and insured can negatively affect the rights of the innocent accident victim.
TN Supreme Court: Without a Civil Judgment, Victim Not an “Indispensable Party” to Insurance Dispute
This point was hit home by a recent decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court, Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. DeBruce. This case began with a December 2012 car accident on I-24 in Hamilton County. The defendant rear-ended another vehicle. At the time, the defendant’s wife notified their insurance carrier, Tennessee Farmers, about the accident. The insurer then paid benefits to both drivers to cover their property damage.
Just under a year later, the other driver filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant. The defendant did not notify Tennessee Farmers of the lawsuit, even though he was required to do so under his policy. In fact, Tennessee Farmers only learned of the case when informed by the personal injury plaintiff’s lawyer in early 2015. In addition, Tennessee Farmers said the defendant never responded to its telephone calls and “twice failed to appear for an examination under oath” about the accident.
In March 2015, Tennessee Farmers sued the defendant, asking a Bradley County judge to declare it had no duty to defend or indemnify the defendant in the personal injury lawsuit. When the defendant failed to respond, the court entered a default judgment for Tennessee Farmers.
This prompted the plaintiff in the personal injury case to take action. She moved to intervene and set aside the default judgment on the grounds that she was an “indispensable party” to the case. That is to say, the plaintiff maintained the court did not have the authority to hear the insurance company’s case unless she was allowed to participate in the litigation given her interest in the outcome.
The trial court rejected the plaintiff’s argument. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding the plaintiff was an “indispensable party,” and therefore the trial court lacked jurisdiction. The Supreme Court then reinstated the trial judge’s original ruling, holding the personal injury plaintiff was in fact not an indispensable party. Basically, the Supreme Court said that since the plaintiff had not yet obtained an actual civil judgment in her personal injury lawsuit, she had no real interest in the outcome of the litigation between the defendant and his insurance company.
Get Help from a Tennessee Car Accident Attorney Today
It may seem unfair that a negligent defendant’s failure to cooperate with his own insurance company can prejudice the ability of an accident victim to recover damages. This is why it is important for any victim to take prompt legal action in asserting their potential rights. If you have been injured in an accident and need advice from an experienced Knoxville personal injury lawyer, contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today.