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Personal injury cases rely heavily on an insurer’s ability to pay claims to injured persons in auto accidents. But with the recent Connecticut Supreme Court decision that ultimately rejected a two-decade standard regarding payable claims in underinsured motorist accidents, many wonder if personal injury cases will suffer.
The High Court, having ruled an auto insurance policy with coverage for underinsured motorists cannot exclude benefits to the insured, calls to question whether self-insurers like car rental companies should be excluded in situations where tortfeasors rent vehicles while having inadequate personal and rental insurance.
The case, Tannone v. Amica Mutual Ins. Co., Nos. SC 20020, SC 20021 (Conn. Aug. 7, 2018), was formed when two pedestrians, Sandra and Patrick Tannone, were struck and seriously injured by an oncoming vehicle. Enterprise Rent-A-Car, known as EAN Holdings LLC, owned the vehicle which was rented to Barbara Wasilesky, although an approved driver, Arthur Huffman, was behind the wheel during the accident.
The Tannone’s filed claim against Wasilesky’s policy, ultimately receiving the Connecticut minimum of $20,000 each. Unfortunately, the extent of the Tannone’s personal injury extended past what Wasilesky’s policy paid out. Amica insured Sandra and Patrick separately for $500,000 each in incidents where the personal injury was endured by another’s negligence. After settling with Wasilesky and Huffman, the couple sued Amica to recover benefits on their individual policies.
Amica argued that their policies did not indemnify underinsured motorists when tortfeasors didn’t own their vehicles, but rather the self-insurer. Because the vehicle that hit the Tannone couple was driven by Huffman, was owned by Enterprise who is self-insured and because the Sandra and Patrick did not exhaust all available remedies from Enterprise, Amica moved for summary judgment as a matter of law.
The trial court awarded summary judgment, but the Supreme Court reversed due to regulations giving rise to the self-insurance omissions in the Tannones’ individual policies was unenforceable as applied to Enterprise. As a self-insurer, Enterprise cannot be held liable for customer negligence, a decision rendered when Congress enacted the Graves Amendment.
Culpability in personal injury accidents where vehicles lack enough liability coverage to indemnify the innocent does fall on the insurer. But when rental cars from Avis, Enterprise and their ilk are sued, the question whether company liability exists will always be argued in legal circles around Connecticut.
Tortfeasors who willfully neglect their responsibilities and hit innocent pedestrians will result in some remuneration, but as to how much and what policies are sued, Connecticut law establishes only how and why parties are liable. Juries have sole discretion in awarding amounts available under Connecticut law and may add other damages as deemed just and proper in accordance with law.
Remember, injured pedestrians have the right to hold those who caused their aggrievance accountable. A personal injury attorney is idyllic in situations where complexities, such as what the Tannone couple endured, are expected to alter the final monetary award.
No part of this article establishes an attorney-client relationship, nor does it guarantee outcomes of personal injury claims.
To consult with an attorney in pedestrian, vehicle or any other accident, Knight & Cerritelli is available for in-person or phone consultations. Our New Haven personal injury site: https://www.egclawyers.com. Or call us at (203) 624-6115.