Following an automobile accident, you will likely deal with insurance companies unwilling to pay what you believe you are owed. Insurance companies may rely on a multitude of evidence to support their decisions, including witness testimony. The following East Baton Rouge lawsuit demonstrates the weight courts may place on witness testimony following a car accident.
Darral Norwood was driving a car owned by Toshika W. Smith, the mother of Laterrica Gustave. Gustave had Smith’s express permission to drive the car under certain circumstances without asking, although she was required to ask permission from Smith for all other purposes. Smith had an automobile liability policy on the car, where Smith was named as the only insured. The policy, however, included a provision excluding coverage of any damage caused by someone operating the vehicle at the time of the accident without the express or implied permission of the insured.
On the day of the accident, Norwood, who did not have a driver’s license or a vehicle, claimed Gustave told him to take the car to work. Gustave, however, denied ever permitting Norwood to take the vehicle. Norwood, driving Smith’s car, then rear-ended Rachel Pray’s vehicle as she slowed down due to congested traffic.
Pray then brought a claim against Norwood and the insurer of Smith’s car, USAgenices Casualty Insurance Company, Inc., subsequently referred to as Affirmative Casualty Insurance Company (Affirmative). Affirmative then filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Norwood did not have the express or implied permission necessary to drive the car, thereby claiming the exclusionary provision in the policy denied coverage. Pray countered that Norwood had express or implied permission to drive the car or, alternatively, whether he had permission to use the car was in dispute, exposing genuine issues of material fact that made summary judgment improper.
Following a hearing, the 19th Judicial District Court for the Parish of East Baton Rouge found that, based on Norwood’s testimony, he knew he did not have Smith’s permission to drive the car on the day of the accident. The District Court also found that Norwood was a non-permissive driver, and he was excluded from coverage. The District Court then granted summary judgment in favor of Affirmative.
Pray then appealed to the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal with Affirmative as the appellee. During the pendency of the appeal, however, Affirmative was placed into insolvency, resulting in the Louisiana Insurance Guaranty Association (LIGA) being responsible for claims pending against them, per La. R.S. 22:2055(6).
In her appeal, Pray argued, in part, the District Court erred in weighing the evidence and credibility of Norwood’s testimony regarding the permissive use of the car when there was abundant conflicting and contradictory testimony.
The Court of Appeal found that whether a person was operating a vehicle with the express or implied permission of the insured was decided according to the facts of the specific case. See Malmay v. Sizemore). The court found, in this case, the testimony of Norwood himself established unequivocally that he did not have Smith’s permission to drive the car. His testimony also established that Smith barred Gustave from granting anyone, including Norwood, permission to drive the vehicle.
The Court of Appeal held that because Norwood had actual knowledge that he did not have the permission required to trigger coverage under Smith’s insurance policy, summary judgment was properly granted, and the District Court’s findings were affirmed.
This case shows the necessity of providing reliable testimony and its vital role in court, as certain testimony may prove challenging to overcome. Hiring the right attorney is crucial for finding reliable witnesses and presenting the best case possible to win your lawsuit.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Samantha Calhoun
Additional Berniard Law Firm Articles on the Importance of Testimony in Automobile Cases: HOW A COURT DECIDES HOW MUCH FAULT A DRIVER HAS WHEN BOTH SIDES CAUSED AN ACCIDENT