California Court Affirms Summary Judgment for Car Insurer When Insured Used “Non-Owned” Employer Vehicle Regularly

The California Court of Appeals recently addressed whether a van that had been provided to an employee for business use was covered by that employee’s personal automobile insurance.  This issue was central to the lawsuit brought by a car accident victim injured by the employee while she was driving the van, during business hours, on a personal errand. The accident victim had recovered the statutory limit of $15,000 from the employer and then, in an arbitration involving only the driver/employee and the victim, been awarded over a half-million dollars in damages.

van

The driver tendered the defense of the action to her insurer, but they refused to indemnify or defend her. She assigned her rights to the victim.  After the insurer refused to pay the judgment the victim had obtained, based on the arbitrator’s award, the victim filed a lawsuit against the insurer for breach of contract, bad faith, and declaratory relief.

The insurer had moved for summary judgment, arguing there was no coverage for the van involved in the accident, since it had been provided to the employee driver for her regular use.  The trial court found that as a matter of law, there was no coverage under the “non-owned auto clause,” since the employee’s use of the van was nearly unlimited. The court granted the summary judgment motion.

The plaintiff victim appealed, arguing the van had not been provided for the victim’s regular use because it was only for business use, and she had been on a personal mission when the accident occurred. Ultimately, the appellate court found that since the employee driver could use the van for both personal and business purposes, her use of the van at the time of the accident did not depart from customary use, and there was no coverage under her personal insurance policy.

In their analysis, the appellate court stated a car insurance company may move for summary judgment on the ground that a claim is excluded. They maintain the burden of proving that a claim falls under an exclusion. Once they have done so, the burden shifts to the insured to show a triable issue of material fact remains.

In this case, the appellate court stated that the insurer met their burden of proving that the van, through “regular use,” fell outside the policy coverage.  The victim failed to create a triable issue of fact on that issue.  The court here stated that based on the facts submitted by the insurer, the van had been provided to the driver for her regular use.  The victim did not create a triable issue of fact, and the issue of coverage could be decided as a matter of law.

The insurance policy at issue in this case provided coverage for cars that the driver owned or used temporarily, as a substitute vehicle.  A car that was not owned by the driver and not being used but that was furnished for regular use would be excluded by the insurance policy.  In this case, the driver did not own the van and had not been using it as a temporary substitute vehicle.  The van was therefore excluded from coverage, if “furnished for (her) regular use.”

According to the plaintiff victim, the van had not been furnished to the driver for regular use because her employer provided it primarily for business purposes.  He argued that the driver’s use was not regular because at the time of the accident, she had been on a personal mission.  The insurer argued that the employer provided the van for both business and personal uses and that the driver could use the van as she wanted.

The appellate court stated that the driver had keys to the van, which was assigned solely to her, and that she had been authorized to use the van for both business and personal purposes.  At the time of the accident, she had been using the van in accordance with that regular use.

In conclusion, the Court held that the insurance policy did not provide coverage for the victim’s injuries. The trial court properly granted the insurer’s summary judgment motion.

The car accident attorneys at Sharifi Firm help victims throughout Southern California in personal injury claims for compensation. Call our office today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222 or complete our online form.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Reverses Lower Court Judgment in Favor of Towing Company after Plaintiff Severely Injured in Freeway Shoulder Accident and Genuine Issues of Fact Remained, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, January 23, 2017

California Appellate Court Upholds Reasonable Value of Medical Services for Uninsured Victim of Car Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, October 24, 2016

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