Court of Appeals Rejects Insurance Company’s Defense of Nonpermissive Use in Recent Case

Louisiana law requires all motor vehicle liability insurance policies to extend coverage not only to the insured, but also to any other person with express or implied permission to drive the motor vehicle. Once the insured gives permission, coverage will be denied only if the driver deviates from the permissive use. Consequently, at issue in most lawsuits of this kind is whether the damages caused by the driver are covered by the policy.

A recent case involved Ellen Van, who was driving her car on McReight Street in the city of Bastrop on the same day that minor April Canada was driving a truck owned by the defendant, Steven Ferrell, her live-in boyfriend. April allegedly failed to stop at an intersection and collided with the Van’s vehicle. Ellen and her husband, claiming that the collision caused injuries to her back and body, filed suit against Steven Ferrel and his insurer, Safeway Insurance Company of Louisiana. In Ellen T. Van and Ralph E. Van v. Steven Ferrell and Safeway Ins. Co., the lower court granted Safeway’s motion for summary judgment on the basis of the affirmative defense of nonpermissive use. Safeway contended that April did not have permission to use the truck on the day in question, and, therefore, the damages caused by the accident were not covered by the policy.

On appeal, the plaintiffs challenged the lower court’s determination that there was no genuine issue of material fact in the case. Specifically, the plaintiffs contested that April’s implied permission from Ferrell to drive the truck on the day of the accident was an unresolved, material issue in the case. The Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeals, agreeing with the plaintiffs, reversed and remanded the lower court’s judgment because the deposition testimony established that an issue remained in the case as to whether April had implied permission to drive Ferrell’s truck.

Although Ferrell stated April did not have express permission to drive the truck, he conceded at the deposition that the keys and truck were at the house, which were readily accessible to April, and that he never explicitly told April she did not have permission to drive the truck. Moreover, Ferrell’s mother Tracy, who also lived at the home, testified that April had occasionally driven the truck unaccompanied; however, she later stated that April only drove the truck with her or another licensed driver. Most significantly, April testified that she drove Ferrell’s truck many times around the area where they lived with Ferrell and Tracy’s permission. April further testified that since Tracy and Ferrell knew she had to report to work the day of the accident, she believed she had permission to drive the truck to town.

According to the appellate court, the trial court needed to resolve the credibility of the parties’ accounts due to the inconsistent deposition testimony. Since a trial is the only appropriate legal forum to resolve issues in a case dependent on credibility determinations, the appellate court concluded that summary judgment was improper.

As this case demonstrates, it is important to have competent representation to successfully appeal an unfavorable judgment. The ability to challenge the court’s rulings and force the proper judicial process is something a plaintiff, or defendant, needs to feel confident their attorney can handle.