Does Driving A Car While the Owner Is Away Allow for Liability Coverage After an Accident?
Docket No.: A-2104-18
Decided March 4, 2021
Submitted by New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In a recent unpublished decision, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court on the issue of whether someone driving a car that was left at their house while the owner was away constituted permissive use and allowed for liability coverage after an accident.
In Coleman, Sherefer Arrington, the owner of a 2010 Lexus RX350 SUV insured by Liberty Mutual Insurance (Liberty Mutual), travelled to Atlanta, Georgia with her cousin, Kenya Arrington. Sherefer decided to leave her Lexus at the home of Claude Griffith, Kenya’s boyfriend at the time. The record shows Sherefer expected the car would remain there undisturbed until she returned from her trip to Atlanta. There is no evidence to support that Sherefer expressly or implicitly authorized Kenya’s daughter, Sheavonra Adderley, to drive the car.
On July 24, 2014, Adderley drove the car without Sherefer’s permission while the latter was in Atlanta. Adderley was involved in a one-car accident when the Lexus struck a guardrail. There were four other occupants in the car. Rodnea Coleman, who was in the front passenger seat, fractured her left arm in the collision. Adderley left the scene without reporting the accident to the local police department.
As the owner of the car, Sherefer testified that she did not give Adderley permission to drive the vehicle. Liberty Mutual denied coverage for the accident based on Adderley’s unauthorized use of the car. Liberty Mutual reached this decision based in large part on Sherefer’s emphatic denial of ever giving Adderley permission to drive her car. Liberty Mutual found no reasonable basis to infer Adderley was a permissive user of the vehicle at the time of the accident.
Although the keys were left on the table, the record showed the Sherefer was the only one with permission to move the car, if necessary. At no point was Adderley given permission to use the vehicle, nor could it be implied. The Trial Court was overturned after it found Adderley to be a permissive user.
The Appellate Division noted that the record was void of Adderley having any kind of permission to use the vehicle. They reversed the trial court’s decision and denied liability coverage.
This case is important for all personal injury plaintiffs. Insurance is the best way, and sometimes the only way, to recover monetary damages for personal injury. For motor vehicle accidents, only permissive users are afforded liability coverage. If someone is found to not be a permissive user and is involved in an accident, coverage will likely be denied, as the case here.
If you or someone you know has been injured in a slip and fall, motor vehicle accident, truck crash, wrongful death, or other premises related injury, you need to make sure you contact a personal injury attorney with experience today. Failing to consider these issues could result in your case be dismissed permanently. Do not hesitate to contact Hark & Hark today to discuss your personal injury.
For personal injury matters, you pay nothing upfront, and our fee is paid as a percentage of your recovery. At Hark & Hark, we represent clients for any case in any county in New Jersey including Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Mercer, Ocean, and Salem counties. We represent clients in all towns in New Jersey, including Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Elizabeth, Edison, Woodbridge, Lakewood, Toms River, Hamilton, Trenton, Clifton, Camden, Brick, Cherry Hill, Passaic, Middletown, Union City, Old Bridge, Gloucester Township, East Orange, Bayonne, Franklin Township, North Bergen, Vineland, and Union.