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Insurance Exclusions May Work to the Detriment of Accident Victims

Sorting out legal liability following a car accident is often more complicated than you might think. For example, if the vehicle that causes an accident is insured, you might assume the insurance company is automatically responsible for any damages owed to the victims. But insurance policies are contracts, and there are often multiple clauses which the insurer can invoke to avoid liability.

Insurer Not Liable for House Sitter’s Accident

Here is a recent example from here in Tennessee. This case involves a horrific car accident that killed three people and seriously injured two others. The accident occurred when a vehicle driven by a 27-year-old man crossed the center line of a road and struck the victims’ car.

The man was not driving his own vehicle, but rather one that belonged to another family. The vehicle itself was insured. He was a longtime friend of the family and was house sitting for them on the day of the accident. Although the man testified that he had never driven any of the family’s vehicles before, he did so on the day in question after a friend contacted him, asking for a ride. The fatal accident occurred after the man completed this errand.

The man was later sued in federal court by one of the victims. The insurer for the vehicle then filed its own lawsuit in Tennessee state court, seeking a declaration it was not liable for any damages with respect to this accident, since the driver used the vehicle without the policyholder’s consent. The victim argued the driver had “implied permission,” and therefore the insurer should be liable.

The courts disagreed. The Tennessee Court of Appeals, in a February 2016 judgment, upheld a lower court’s decision in favor of the insurer. The appeals court noted the policy only covered the policyholders, their family members, and “any person using, with your permission and within the scope of your permission, an automobile.” The evidence presented before the trial court clearly established the driver in this case did not have permission, express or implied, to operate the insured vehicles. Indeed, the appeals court cited testimony that the vehicle involved in the accident had expired tags, and the owner did not even actively use it himself.

The court also noted the driver was house sitting at the invitation of the owners’ daughter. In other words, even if the daughter gave the driver permission to operate the vehicle, that would not be sufficient to establish the insurer’s liability. The driver required permission directly from the policyholder (the parents).

Get Advice Following a Car Accident

Insurance contracts are just one aspect of dealing with the aftermath of a car accident. That is why, if you have been in an accident, it is important to seek assistance from a qualified Tennessee personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Contact the offices of Fox, Farley, Willis & Burnette, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton today if you would like to speak with someone about your case.

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