In the aftermath of a tragic situation, such as the death of a child, the last thing you might want to consider are insurance policies and legal requirements. However, it is essential to understand how courts determine whether an individual was covered by a specific insurance policy so that you know who might be liable for your losses. This is especially important when the accident involves a vehicle used both commercially and personally.
Jamie and Ericka Myers found themselves in a tragic situation after Brad Welch hit and killed their six-year-old son, Tyler, as Welch was turning into his house’s driveway. The Myers filed a lawsuit against Welch, his employer, Valentine & Leblanc, and Security National Insurance. Valentine & Leblanc insured the car that hit Myers’ son, although Welch owned the vehicle personally.
The Myers brought claims for themselves, their deceased son, and their twelve-year-old son Peyton. After a successful mediation, the court dismissed the claims against Welch, Valentine & Leblanc, and Security National Insurance. The Myers added AIG Specialty Insurance Company as a defendant as Valentine & Leblanc had a commercial umbrella liability insurance policy from them. AIG Specialty Insurance Company then filed a summary judgment motion, arguing that Welch was not in the course or scope of his employment with Valentine & Leblanc when the accident occurred and therefore was not covered by the at-issue insurance policies. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AIG Specialty Insurance Company, holding that Welch was not an “additional insured” under the at-issue insurance policy.
The Myers then filed a motion for a new trial. At the hearing for the motion for a new trial, the court said it had some “misgivings” about its prior ruling and granted the motion for a new trial. The Myers subsequently filed a summary judgment motion on coverage. They argued that Welch was an additional insured, and at the time of the accident, Welch was covered by the at-issue insurance policy.
AIG Specialty Insurance Company countered with a motion for summary judgment for coverage, arguing Welch was not insured under the at-issue policy when he was using the vehicle for personal reasons, as he was at the time of the accident. Despite objections from Myers, the court permitted numerous exhibits to be admitted as evidence. This evidence included admissions from Welch that he was not acting within the scope of his employment when the accident occurred and an affidavit that Valentine & Leblanc did not own the vehicle Welch was driving at the time of the accident. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of AIG Specialty Insurance Company. The Myers appealed.
On appeal, the appellate court reviews summary judgment with the same criteria the trial court uses. Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). A summary judgment can be appropriate for insurance coverage, even if there are disputes about liability and damages. See La. C.C.P. art. 966.
Here, AIG Specialty Insurance Company issued a commercial umbrella liability insurance policy to Valentine & Leblanc. The Myers argued on appeal that La. C.C. art. 2047 prohibits using extrinsic evidence in interpreting insurance contracts. The appellate court first inquired whether the insurance policy’s language was ambiguous. It found that the language was not ambiguous. However, external evidence such as affidavits is still allowed to be introduced to determine if an insurance policy is in effect. Therefore, the appellate court held that the admissions from Welch and Valentine’s affidavit were properly admitted because they were introduced to present evidence about whether coverage was in effect at the time of the accident, not to alter the terms of the insurance contract. Then, in determining whether the at-issue insurance policy covered Welch, the appellate court pointed to the actual language of the insurance policy. Notably, the insurance policy included an “owner exception” exclusion within the definition of “insured.” Therefore, the appellate court held that there was no error in the trial court’s holding that Welch was not covered under the at-issue insurance policies.
If you are considering bringing a lawsuit, it is essential to consult with a good attorney who can advise you on what the courts will look at in interpreting insurance policies. This can help you understand what possible remedies might exist.
Additional Sources: Jamie Myers and Ericka Myers, Individually and On Behalf of Their Minor Deceased Child, Tyler Myers, and Peyton Myers (Their Minor Son) v. Brad M. Welch, Valentine & LeBlanc, LLC; Security National Ins. Co. and Southern Farm Bureau Casualty Ins. Co.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Writer
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Insurance Coverage for Work Vehicles: Trial Court Judgment Amended in Baton Rouge Workplace Incident, Shows Importance of Diligent Lawyering