Insurance Coverage for “Permissive Drivers” Involved in Florida Automobile Accidents

When an accident occurs, there is often a resulting dispute over whose insurance should provide coverage for basic reparation benefits. The circumstances can become even more convoluted when a driver is not the owner or insured under a specific automobile insurance policy. In a recent ruling, the Fourth District Court of Appeal of Florida has recognized that liability depends on the parties to the lawsuit as well as the insurance policy language and exclusions.

The case of Allstate Ins. Co. v. Manzo-Pianelli, et al. involved an automobile accident between two vehicles. The driver of one vehicle was a permissive driver, or an individual who has been allowed to operate a vehicle but is not listed on the auto’s insurance policy. The owner of the vehicle had two relevant insurance policies. The first, with coverage limits of $100,000, was a standard automobile policy. The other was an umbrella policy that provided $1,000,000 in coverage. After the accident, the automobile insurer tendered the limits to the other driver, who then executed a partial release of the car’s owner. The other driver then attempted to recover on the umbrella policy. However, the insurer of that policy denied coverage.

The injured driver then brought legal action against the permissive driver and the insurance company that denied coverage. Importantly, the owner of the at-fault vehicle was never named as a party to the lawsuit.

The trial court held there was coverage for permissive drivers under the automobile owner’s umbrella policy. The language of that policy provided that the insurer would pay damages “which an insured person becomes legally obligated to pay because of personal injury . . .” The policy also listed “insured drivers” under the policy as those named on the declarations or any relative or resident of the household. It was undisputed that the permissive driver in question was not a relative or household member of the car’s owner. The insurer contended that the permissive driver was not an insured person under the policy language, and that the policy holder could not be legally obligated because he had never been named as a defendant. The trial court disagreed and granted summary judgment in favor of the injured driver.

On appeal, the reviewing court ruled there were issues of material fact regarding whether the car owner could ever be legally obligated in the matter. Significant factors, according to the appeals court, included whether the statute of limitations to sue the car’s owner had run, whether he could be added as a defendant, and whether the insurer had misrepresented its coverage under the umbrella policy. The appeals court noted that the umbrella policy insurer had admitted that it would be legally obligated to pay the claim if the insured had in fact been named as a defendant in the matter. The appeals court then reversed the summary judgment and remanded the matter to the trial court in order to determine whether legal action could be maintained against the insured. If not, the appellate court held, there would be no coverage for the permissive driver under the umbrella policy.

If you or someone you know has been injured in a car accident and are having trouble getting benefits from the insurance companies involved, contact the Southwest Florida car accident lawyers at Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano. Our attorneys will work tirelessly to get you the compensation you deserve. To speak with an attorney, contact us or call toll-free at (800) 238-7442.

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