Insurance issues can complicate a car accident case. This is why it is important to retain a Maine personal injury attorney that understands insurance coverage, particularly when there may be multiple insurance policies that offer coverage for a particular accident. Not all lawyers have a good grasp on how to read insurance policies.
In Maine, every vehicle owner has to carry liability insurance as well as uninsured motorist coverage and medical payments coverage. The minimum liability insurance coverage for injury to one person is $50,000. Every person is required to obtain uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage of $50,000/$100,000 or a combined limit of $100,000. These are minimum requirements, and sometimes it is wise to purchase more as a precautionary measure in case of a serious accident or wrongful death.
In a recent case, a decedent’s estate appealed after a summary judgment in favor of the defendants in its lawsuit against three insurance companies. On appeal, the estate argued there were issues of material fact about whether the decedent, a minor, had actually completed the purchase of a truck he was driving at the time of his death. The estate also argued that the decedent was killed before he became an adult and didn’t have the opportunity to ratify the contract.
The case arose when a 16-year-old saw a 1990 pickup truck for sale on the road. He called the phone number on the “for sale” sign. He and the truck’s owner talked about him buying the truck and he bought it for $900 over the phone. That evening, the teenager gave the truck’s owner cash in an envelope. Although the envelope specified it had $900 in it, actually it had only $800 in it. The man gave the teenager keys, the truck’s maintenance history and a title. However, he didn’t sign the ownership section on the back of the title or fill out other requirements. A witness testified that the truck owner had agreed to leave insurance on it until the 16-year-old got his own.
Eleven days later, the teenager had a fatal accident. He hadn’t registered or insured the truck. The truck owner’s insurance card was still in the truck.
The decedent’s aunt called the truck owner to tell him about the accident. Around that time, the truck owner contacted his insurer and removed the truck from his insurance policy.
The other car in the accident was insured by Hanover, which paid its policy limits of $100,000. The decedent’s mother and father were insured by two other insurers. The policies covered the decedent as a resident family member for purposes of uninsured motorist coverage. However, they also precluded coverage for vehicles owned that were not insured.
The estate sought recover from the truck’s owner’s policy, under the uninsured motorist coverage portion of the policy, as well as the parent’s policies. All denied coverage. When the estate filed suit, the insurers filed for summary judgment. The trial court denied their motions, ruling that there was a question as to whether the truck owner had agreed to allow the teenager to use his truck with registration and insurance or whether the truck owner had allowed the teenager to use his registration and insurance on the teenager’s truck.The court ruled that the only on-point testimony was the witness’s deposition testimony, which was unclear.
The truck owner filed a second motion for summary judgment with the truck owner’s affidavit. The truck owner swore that the sale was final as soon as the teenager took possession of the truck and that he had told the boy that his insurance wasn’t transferable and couldn’t cover the teenager. The other two insurers adopted the motion. The trial court granted the summary judgment motion.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s ruling and explained that a binding contract requires mutual assent. The terms of an oral contract and the parties’ intend are factual questions. The estate argued there was a genuine dispute about the contract’s terms. If the teenager did own the truck at the time he died, the estate would be unable to recover.
The defendants argued that the affidavit was conclusive proof of intent to complete the sale before the date of the accident. But the record also included evidence from which a jury could have concluded the sale would be final when the teenager registered and insured the truck. For one thing, the truck owner had not signed the transfer of title. For another, a witness had testified the teen could use the truck with both his plates and his insurance. The judgment was vacated and the case sent back for further proceedings.
If a loved one is hurt or killed in a vehicle accident, an experienced personal injury attorney may be able to help you recover the compensation you deserve. At Briggs & Wholey, our knowledgeable attorneys are available to answer any questions you may have. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced advocate, please contact Briggs & Wholey, LLC at (888) 596-1099 or through our website today.
More Blog Posts:
Child Safety in Maine: Graco Recall of Car Seats, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, March 18, 2014
Attitudes about Speeding in Maine and Elsewhere, Maine Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, March 11, 2014