Thursday, September 9, 2010

Jury awards $12 million against car owners who removed driver from their auto insurance policy

Andrew Caplan of Gilbert & Renton, LLC brought to my attention yet another cautionary tale about why adequate insurance is important. In this article Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly describes a case, Silverio v. Gentile, in which a $12 million jury verdict was awarded in a motor vehicle accident suit in which the defendants did not have auto insurance. (The link to the article will only work if you have a password for the Lawyer's Weekly website).

According to the article, Vittorio Gentile, Jr., 26 years old at the time, was driving his grandparents' SUV when he caused a head-on collision for which he has been found criminally responsible.

The jury found that Gentile's grandparents were liable, because they allowed him to drive the car after they were aware of his extensive driving record. Gentile had been hit with so many surcharges that the grandparents had removed him from their insurance policy even though other grandchildren were still covered and permitted to use their vehicles. The jury found that the grandparents were negligent in their failure to secure the car from Gentile because they routinely left the keys out in the open. The plaintiffs convinced the jury that Gentile had their tacit consent to use the vehicle.

Like the case I posted about here, the injuries in this case were tragic. The plaintiffs were two brothers, Joseph and Douglas Homsi, in their 60's. Before the accident Douglas acted as a caretaker for Joseph, who has mental disabilities. In the accident Joseph suffered broken bones and internal injuries. Douglas incurred more serious injuries, and was left unable to breathe, eat, or speak on his own.

Because Gentile is not covered by insurance and the grandparents were found negligent, if the $12 million verdict stands they will have to pay it out of their personal assets. Early in the case plaintiffs' counsel placed an attachment on their real estate, including their home. Plaintiffs' counsel also obtained an injunction to keep the grandparents from transferring their assets.

The moral:

1. Make sure that anyone who will drive your car is covered by your insurance. Under the standard Massachusetts auto policy, you can lend your car to a friend for an afternoon, but if your friend regularly drives your car they must be added to your policy. Doing so will not affect your premiums if your friend has a clean driving record.

2. Don't drive drunk.

3. Don't let anyone use your car who will drive drunk.

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