After obtaining a verdict in a car accident lawsuit, the plaintiff sought to enforce the judgment against the defendant’s insurer. The insurance company successfully argued that the “business use” exception barred coverage of the plaintiff’s claim, as the defendant was operating his vehicle in the course of his work at the time of the accident. The court in the original lawsuit had found that the doctrine of respondeat superior, which holds an employer liable for certain acts of an employee, did not apply to the defendant’s employer. The court in the present case, Forkwar v. Empire Fire and Marine Ins. Co., nevertheless found that the business use exception applied. The case highlights an important challenge for Maryland plaintiffs who may obtain a verdict, but might have difficulty enforcing it.
The plaintiff, Augustine Forkwar, was involved in an automobile accident during the early morning of November 26, 2004 with Hameed Mahdi. Mahdi was an independent contractor of J&J Logistics. He owned his vehicle but leased it to J&J. At the time of the accident, he was on his way to a job for J&J when he stopped to get something to eat. Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Company had issued a commercial auto insurance policy to Mahdi, but it asserted that it was not obligated to defend or indemnify Mahdi under the policy’s business use exception.
Forkwar sued Mahdi and J&J in October 2006, alleging negligence against Mahdi and respondeat superior liability against J&J. Forkwar reportedly made no attempt to prove liability against J&J, and she did not oppose its motion for judgment as a matter of law in the middle of trial. The jury entered a judgment against Mahdi, who was a no-show at trial, for over $180,000. Forkwar then filed suit against Empire for indemnification. Empire removed the case to federal court and moved for summary judgment based on the business use exception. The district court granted the motion, and Forward appealed to the Fourth Circuit.