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State Farm v. Gruebele – Haggling With Car Insurer Over Teen Coverage

Teen drivers are the most hazardous on the road, primarily because of their inexperience and propensity for distraction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the risk of a crash among 16- to 19-year-olds is higher than for any other age group, and per vehicle miles driven, this group is three times more likely to crash than those 20 or older.
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Worse, summer represents what the National Safety Council refers to as the “100 Most Dangerous Days” for teens, as schedules are less structured and they are more likely to pile into the car with friends.

Car accident attorneys in Boston have handled many injury cases in which a teen driver was at-fault. One of the more challenging aspects in these cases can be sorting out the insurance issues.

Teen drivers are almost certainly going to be listed on their parent’s auto insurance policy, but there may be certain clauses that could exempt coverage in some instances. Additionally, if the teen’s parents are divorced, it’s possible a vehicle could be on one policy, while the teen might be on another.

This latter scenario was the case in State Farm v. Gruebele, which was recently reviewed by the North Dakota Supreme Court. Although this is an out-of-state case, the onerous details of auto insurance policies is something to which we can all relate. Having an experienced car accident lawyer helping you navigate the bureaucracy can save you a lot of headaches.

In this case, the crash occurred when the teen driver was just 15 and operating with a provisional license a vehicle owned and insured by her father.The other motorist, a motorcyclist, was seriously injured and incurred medical expenses in excess of $1 million. By the time the case went to court, his care and treatment was still ongoing.

The girl’s parents were divorced. This is relevant for the fact that many insurance policies stipulate coverage based on “household members,” which can be defined in various ways, depending on the policy.

Here, the father owned and insured the vehicle, but the daughter had exclusive possession of the car six months prior to the crash. The father’s insurance had an umbrella policy limit of $1 million, and the company offered the plaintiff the full amount to settle the claims against the father for vicarious liability, due to his ownership of the vehicle.

Meanwhile, the mother, with whom the teen resided, had a separate insurance policy that listed herself and a different vehicle. The daughter was not specifically mentioned on the policy, though the mother had, six months earlier, signed off on sponsorship of her daughter’s driver’s license application. That meant that until her daughter turned 18, she assumed financial liability for any negligent acts arising from her daughter’s operation of a car.

Prior to trial, the mother’s insurance firm did not deny the mother personally was liable. However, it requested a summary judgment in its favor relieving it of responsibility, saying the daughter was not covered under the mother’s auto insurance plan. The court found that the daughter was a “resident-relative” per the policy’s definition, but the vehicle she was driving wasn’t on the policy and therefore the crash wasn’t covered.

The motorcyclist appealed.

The state supreme court affirmed. While the mother was personally liable for her daughter’s negligence – and the plaintiff was free to pursue litigation against her individually – the mother’s auto insurer was not responsible to pay damages for the crash.

If you are injured in an accident in Boston, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
State Farm v. Gruebele, May 2014, North Dakota Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Massachusetts DOT to Bostonians: “Use Yah Blinkah”, May 13, 2014, Boston Car Accident Lawyer Blog