SMDA partner, Phil Serafini, obtained an outstanding result in a automobile No-Fault case.
A minor, Alison Monaco, was involved in a serious 1-car accident and sustained serious and life-changing injuries. Our firm was contacted by her mother one day before a lawsuit had to be filed to against the insurance company, Home-Owners, for denying her daughter’s Michigan No-Fault Insurance Benefits.
Home-Owners insurance company denied the claim because at the time of the accident, the Alison was 15-years-old and driving without a parent in the car, contrary to Michigan law. Her mother had given a statement to Home-Owners that her daughter did not have permission to drive the car on the day of the accident. Her father allegedly made a comment at the scene that could be construed as meaning that his daughter did not have permission as well.
The primary issue for trial was whether the minor had her parents’ permission to take their car on the date of the car accident. If she had taken the vehicle without permission, she would be barred from no-fault benefits under MCL 500.3113(a). Her mother testified at trial that her daughter did have permission to drive the car. She testified that she had lied to Home-Owners when she was giving her statement because she was concerned that, as the owner of the car, she could go to jail and would be unable to care for her catastrophically injured daughter.
Her father also testified at trial that Alison did have permission to take the car on the day of the accident, and that he did not recall the alleged statement at the accident scene. However, if such statement was made, it would have been directed towards her mother as he initially disagreed with her decision to let Alison take and operate the vehicle without a parent present. Alison’s discovery deposition, now deceased, was read at trial. She also testified she had parents’ permission to regularly take and use the car before and on the date of her accident.
The key to winning the case was establishing a pattern of use of the vehicle, by the minor while alone, prior to the accident. A half dozen witnesses testified that they repeatedly saw Alison driving the car, by herself, to work, school and softball practice over the course of more than a month leading up to the car accident. This pre-accident permissive use of the vehicle was consistent with the trial testimony of the parents and their daughter before she passed away. It was also consistent with the unrebutted testimony of one of the minor’s teachers, and her parents, that she was on her way to school to take a test when the accident occurred.
Trial lasted three days. The Jury was out only two hours. The Jury agreed that Defendant failed to meet its burden of proof that Alison did not have permission to take the vehicle on the date of the motor vehicle accident and awarded the minor $246,897.39 in damages. The Intervening Plaintiffs were awarded $1,018,466.99 in damages.
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