Demonstrating Permissive Use of Vehicles Key to Insurers’ Liability

Motorist Jennifer Lopez was injured in a hit-and-run accident with a truck near Vinton. At the time of the accident, the truck was being driven by someone other than its owner, Teri Ardoin. The driver fled the scene but the truck was tracked down and Ardoin identified as the owner. Lopez filed suit against both Ardoin and her insurer, Safeway Insurance Company. At trial, the issue was Safeway’s liability as insurer of the truck. The trial judge awarded damages to Lopez, but because of Safeway’s policy limits, Lopez’s own insurer, State Farm, had to cover the balance.

On appeal, Safeway contended that its coverage of the vehicle could not be proven without first establishing that the insured gave permission to drive the truck to the unknown driver. The appeal raises questions of the omnibus insurance clause provided by Louisiana statute, La.R.S. 32:900(B)(2). Under this law, an automobile insurance policy shall cover any person who uses the insured’s vehicle with express or implied permission of the insured. It’s up to the plaintiff to establish use of the vehicle with express or implied permission of the insured.

Demonstrating this permissive use requires fact-finding at the trial level. Without some proof of “manifest error,” such fact-finding will not be overturned on appeal. The trial judge in this case found that Ardoin’s truck was the truck involved in the accident. Further, he found Safeway liable for the accident. Several pieces of evidence were put forth to show this, including eyewitness reports identifying the truck and careful observation and recording of the license plate number.

One interesting twist in this case involved the identity of the driver. While Teri and her son are black, the driver of the truck was positively identified as a white male. However, Ardoin testified that she had been out of town during the accident and it was possible her son had used the truck, or let a friend use it.

The appellate court refused to assign manifest error to the trial judge for his finding that someone driving the truck had permissive use to do so. The court reiterated the fact that the truck was identified as being involved in the accident. Additionally, no evidence was put forth to disprove that someone had permission to drive the truck.

Facts are essential to proving that a driver had permission to use a vehicle involved in an accident. If you’ve been in an accident that wasn’t your fault, your case may turn on what a trial court determines concerning this permissive use. Contact a skilled legal professional today to make sure your rights are not jeopardized.

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