Hartzo Case Illustrates Difficulties with Insurance Policies, Disputes

The Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit, recently defined the way in which the Court would look at implied permission for the use of ones car. Depending on the terms of the auto insurance policy, the policy may provide protection for damages that even extend to the passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who has permission to drive the vehicle. This means that if the passenger died in the car accident, the passenger’s family may be able to collect by filing a petition for damages against the insurance of the actual owner of the car, not just the actual driver at the time of the accident.

In Hartzo v. American National Property and Causualty Insurance Company, the driver of a Ford Taurus crashed into a Toyota Tacoma. The driver and passenger of the Taurus were killed in the accident. The driver of the Taurus was the brother of the owner of the vehicle. The family of the passenger filed a petition for damages against American National Property and Casualty Insurance Company (ANPAC) and another insurance company. The insurance policy through ANPAC had provisions that extended such benefits if the driver of the vehicle had express or implied permission to drive the vehicle.

ANPAC thought that they had a good argument that the driver of the Taurus had no permission to drive the vehicle. The Court of Appeal looked at the facts and the policy that the owner of the vehicle had. The Court found that deciding whether there was express permission would not dispose of the case. The Court spent its time analyzing what factors they would look to in order to find implied permission. The Court stated that “the issue of implied permission involves a balancing of legal and public policy issues and must be inferred from the totality of the facts and the relationships involved.” With this statement the Court seems to be saying that both customary use and relationship can be used to find implied permission. The Court of Appeal later stated that the following factors were indicative of implied permission: (1) At the time of the accident the driver and owner of the vehicle were living in the same household, (2) On the day of the accident, the driver of the vehicle had already driven the vehicle with the knowledge of the owner, (3) In the past, the driver had driven the Taurus on many occasions. Therefore, the Court looked at both the relationship involved (i.e. the fact that driver and owner lived under the same roof) and the custom between the parties (i.e. the fact that the driver had driven the car on many occasions). Thus, ANPAC was liable under the petition of damages.

It is very important to clearly understand your insurance policy. The policy may be confusing and many different, and what may seem insignificant factors, can change the entire outcome of a litigation. It is essential that prior to settling any issues with your insurance company, that you seek the advice of competent legal counsel to help you maneuver through complex insurance policy determinations.

If you think you have a claim, or you have been injured in any way, contact the Berniard Law firm at 1-866-574-8005 to speak with an attorney who can help you understand your legal rights.

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