Florida Court Holds Insurer Has No Duty to Defend Rental Car Lessee’s Permitee Following Car Accident

036 morguefile smgrattonIn Allstate Fire and Casualty Ins. Co. v. Paolino, an automobile insurance company issued a liability policy to a couple beginning in July 2011 and terminating on December 25, 2011. The policy listed four motor vehicles and provided bodily injury coverage up to $250,000 for each person and $500,000 per occurrence. The accident policy also stated the insurer would defend the named insureds in the event of a collision in a covered motor vehicle. The accident policy specifically excluded coverage for any bodily injury or property damage that arose out of the use of a substitute vehicle that was being driven by an individual who was not a named insured or a resident of the insured’s household.

At some point, the husband apparently rented a car from an agency and allowed the couple’s housekeeper to operate the vehicle solely for his benefit. At all other times, the vehicle was parked in a garage at the couple’s home. While the housekeeper was returning from a shopping trip that was requested by the couple, she was apparently involved in a traffic wreck. After that, the driver of the vehicle the housekeeper allegedly struck filed a personal injury case against the couple, their housekeeper, and the couple’s auto insurer in a Florida Court.

In response, the insurance company filed a motion for summary judgment, claiming it was not required to provide coverage for the traffic wreck. In general, a motion for summary judgment may be granted when no material issue of fact is in dispute and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In reviewing such a motion, a court is required to make any inferences in favor of the non-moving party.

After stating the parties agreed no material issues of fact were in dispute, the Southern District of Florida examined the facts of the case before it. According to the insurance company, it had no duty to defend the lawsuit because the housekeeper was not an insured under the plain terms of the automobile policy. The couple countered that the insurer must defend their housekeeper because she was the rental car lessee’s permitee. The couple also claimed coverage should be provided based on Florida’s Dangerous Instrumentality Doctrine, which renders a vehicle owner and his or her liability insurer vicariously liable if a lessee permits another driver to operate a leased vehicle.

According to the Southern District of Florida, an insurance policy must be construed based on its plain language. If a policy provision is ambiguous, it should be interpreted in favor of the insured. Next, the court said the burden of proving a loss is covered by an insurance policy is on the party seeking coverage. The federal court then held the terms of the accident policy at issue were not ambiguous and the couple failed to demonstrate that an exception to the provision at issue applied in the case.

After that, the court dismissed the couple’s public policy arguments by stating the purpose of Section 627.7263 of the Florida Statutes was to allow “the lessor of an automobile to shift primary liability for the leased vehicle to the lessee’s insurance carrier, thus rendering its own insurance secondary.” The federal court added that an insurer operating in Florida is permitted to exclude coverage for an insured’s leased vehicle and any permitees.

Since the plain language of the insurance policy excluded the insurer from incurring a defense obligation, the Southern District of Florida granted the insurance company’s motion for summary judgment and ruled it had no duty to defend the couple or their housekeeper in the underlying personal injury lawsuit.

If you were hurt in a South Florida car accident, you need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side to advocate on your behalf. To discuss your rights with a knowledgeable Miami car accident lawyer today, call the skillful advocates at Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. at (305) 448-8585 or contact us through our website.

Additional Resources:

Allstate Fire and Casualty Ins. Co. v. Paolino, Dist. Court, SD Florida 2015

More Blog Posts:

Appeals Court Overturns Erroneous Decision in Florida Workers’ Compensation Back Injury Case, May 8, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Appeals Court Overturns Comparative Negligence Ruling in Florida Premises Liability Case Where Plaintiff Was Wearing High Heels, May 1, 2015, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog

Photo Credit: smgratton, MorgueFile

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