House Sitter Was Not Covered Under Family’s Automobile Liability Insurance Policy

by Mandy Hicks

If someone asked you about your insurance coverage, what would you say? Many people would simply reply, “Yes, I have coverage,” or “No, I don’t have any right now.” Those in the “Yes” contingent would probably consider the matter settled, not giving any thought to exactly what “having insurance” actually means.

How much liability coverage do you have? Is your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage the same amount as your liability coverage? Who exactly is covered under your policy? Under which circumstances?

A Tennessee family was faced with these and other questions when their house sitter (whom they described as a “close family friend”) used their vehicle to go pick up a friend and was involved in a fatal accident on the way back.

Facts of the Case

In the recent case of Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. Dunlap, the plaintiff was an insurance company that filed a declaratory judgment action against the defendant house guest, seeking a determination as to whether the company was obligated to provide coverage under certain liability and umbrella insurance policies issued to the owner of a truck that the house guest was driving when it was involved in a fatal motor vehicle collision. In a separate lawsuit filed in federal court, the lone survivor of the other vehicle sued the house guest, alleging that his negligence caused the accident that injured him and claimed his loved one’s lives.

The Chancery Court for Sevier County granted summary judgment in favor of the insurance company, and the house sitter appealed.

The Decision of the Court of Appeals of Tennessee

The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order in favor of the insurance company. Although the house sitter was a family friend, he had never driven any of the family’s vehicles before and had not discussed with them whether or not this would be permissible. On the day of the accident, it was his intent to use his personal automobile to go pick up a friend in Pigeon Forge, but he could not get his car to go into gear because of transmission problems. He found the keys to the homeowners’ truck on a hook inside a kitchen cabinet, thinking it would be “okay” with the homeowners for him to use their vehicle on what he expected to be a short errand. On the way back, the accident occurred, and three people were killed.

Under these facts, the court found that the house sitter had neither express nor implied permission to drive the truck. Therefore, the trial court’s judicial finding of no coverage under the liability and umbrella policies issued by the plaintiff was correct.

To Talk to a Lawyer About Your Car Accident Case

As this case illustrates, car accident lawsuits can be complicated by matters such as insurance coverage and other procedural issues. If you need advice concerning a car wreck, truck crash, or other motor vehicle collision, call the experienced Kentucky truck accident attorneys at English, Lucas, Priest & Owsley at (270) 781-6500. Our offices are conveniently located in Bowling Green, and we serve clients throughout south central Kentucky, middle Tennessee, and the surrounding areas.

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