Florida Appeals Court Says Summary Judgment Was Not Proper in Car Accident Dispute

Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal has reversed and remanded a trial court’s order granting summary judgment in an insurance dispute. In Allstate Insurance Co. v. Manzo-Pianelli, a woman who was operating an insured motor vehicle with permission was involved in a car accident with another automobile. At the time of the collision, the owner of the vehicle carried a liability policy of $100,000 as well as a $1 million umbrella policy with another company. After the traffic wreck, the owner’s auto insurance company provided the policy limits to a woman who was seriously hurt in the collision. In exchange for the payment, the woman agreed to issue a partial release against the owner of the automobile that apparently struck her. The injured woman next sought coverage under the vehicle owner’s umbrella policy. In response, the insurer refused her claim.

About two years later, the woman filed a lawsuit seeking uninsured motorist coverage from her own motor vehicle insurer. After that, the woman’s liability insurer filed a third-party case seeking to clarify “priority of coverage” against the woman, the company that issued the owner of the vehicle’s umbrella policy, and the driver who allegedly caused the accident. Nearly three years later, the injured woman amended her complaint to include the purportedly negligent driver who caused her injuries. Throughout the court proceedings, the owner of the vehicle was never named as a defendant by any party.

Eventually, the injured woman filed a motion for summary judgment against the insurance company that issued the owner of the car’s umbrella policy. According to the woman, she was entitled to coverage under an excess liability provision included in the insurance policy. The insurer argued that it should not be held liable for the actions of the driver because she was simply a permissive user of the vehicle. In addition, there was no evidence to suggest the driver was a “resident relative” of the vehicle’s owner. The insurer also claimed that the statute of limitations had run against the owner of the car. Because of this, the insurance company argued the owner could not be legally obligated to pay damages under the terms of the umbrella policy. After the trial court granted the woman’s motion for summary judgment, the insurer appealed the case to Florida’s Fourth District.

According to the appellate court, the lower court committed error when it granted summary judgment in favor of the injured woman. Normally, summary judgment is only proper when there are no issues of material fact in dispute. The court stated whether or not the owner of the car could be legally obligated to pay for the driver’s negligent actions was a question of fact for a jury. Additionally, other questions were also in dispute, such as whether the statute of limitations had run or the insurance company that had issued the umbrella policy misrepresented the facts. Since the insurance company would have no obligation to pay a liability claim under an umbrella insurance policy if a lawsuit against the motor vehicle’s owner was improper, the court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded the lawsuit for trial.

If you were injured in a Miami car accident, you may need a knowledgeable attorney on your side to advocate on your behalf. To schedule a free, confidential consultation with a caring South Florida personal injury lawyer, contact Friedman, Rodman & Frank, P.A. online today or give us a call at (305) 448-8585.

Additional Resources:

Allstate Insurance Co. v. Manzo-Pianelli, Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. 2014

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