Insurance Company Escapes Liability for Non-Covered Driver

Earlier this month, a California appellate court issued an opinion in a case between accident victims and the insurance company of the at-fault driver. In the case, Nationwide National Insurance Company v. Shimon, the at-fault party’s insurance company was determined not to be liable for the injuries sustained by the accident victims because the policy did not cover “non-owed” automobiles that were “furnished or available” for the driver’s regular use.

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The Facts of the Case

The Shinons (“the Plaintiffs”) were injured as a result of the negligence of a 17-year-old girl, Lionudakis. At the time of the accident, Lionudakis was driving a GMC that was owned by and registered to her father. However, to save money, her father did not list her on the insurance policy.

Lionudakis’ mother, who was separated from Lionudakis’ father, maintained a separate insurance policy that covered her own vehicles, but not the GMC. The policy did, however, cover family members’ use of “non-owned” vehicles, as long as they were not furnished for the family members’ regular use. This restriction was contained in the insurance agreement.

Lionudakis’ parents set rules for her use of the GMC, which did not permit her to travel too far from home. In fact, on the day of the accident, Lionudakis’ parents had taken the keys of the GMC from her because of her poor grades.

The Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit seeking compensation from Lionudakis, her father, and her mother. The case against Lionudakis and her father settled before trial, so the only remaining party was the mother’s insurance company, Nationwide.

The Court’s Decision

The court determined that Nationwide was not liable to the accident victims because, at the time of the accident, the GMC was made available for Lionudakis’ regular use. The court began by noting that it was not in dispute that Lionudakis was a “family member” under the policy. Therefore, she was covered as long as she was driving a non-owned vehicle that was not made available for her regular use. Neither was it an issue as to whether Lionudakis owned the vehicle. The only real question for the court was whether it was made available for her regular use.

The Plaintiffs argued that the GMC was not available for her regular use, and thus she should have been covered at the time of the accident. They pointed to the regulations her parents placed on the use of the GMC, and the fact that the accident occurred outside the permitted driving range her parents had previously determined. However, the court did not find this persuasive.

The court was persuaded by the purpose of the language in the policy. Nationwide excluded non-owned vehicles that are made available for regular use because to include these vehicles would allow for the insured to abuse the policy by registering the car in someone else’s name. This, the court held, is exactly what was going on here. Lionudakis was not covered by her father’s – the owner’s – policy to save money. Instead, the family was relying on the mother’s policy to cover her in the event of an accident. The court held that this was not what was intended by the language of the policy, so Nationwide was not responsible to insure the vehicle.

Have You Been Injured in a Maryland Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been involved in any kind of Maryland car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. As you can see, however, dealing with insurance companies can be confusing, frustrating, and difficult. Insurance companies will certainly have a team of lawyers working on their side, and it is in your best interest to ensure that you have the same. Call the Maryland-based personal injury law firm of Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC to speak with a dedicated personal injury attorney about your case. We can be reached at 410-654-3600.

More Blog Posts:

How to Tell Whether You Have Been the Victim of Medical Malpractice, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 15, 2015.

U.S. Supreme Court Discusses Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act in Recent Decision, Maryland Accident Law Blog, December 8, 2015.

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