Monday, November 13, 2023

Court Addresses Coverage Issue Regarding Permissive Use in a Motor Vehicle Accident Case

In the case of Motorist Mutual Insurance Company v. Barnes, No. CV19-01-813 (C.P. Lyc. Co. Oct. 13, 2023 Linhardt, J.), the trial court reviewed a declaratory judgment action on a coverage issue of whether an Defendant motorist was owed coverage under an argument that the driver was operating a vehicle with the permission of the owner of the vehicle.

This matter involved a fatal motor vehicle accident. At the time of the accident, the Defendant driver was operating a company car that his father had from his employer.

The question presented was whether there was permissive use of the vehicle by the Defendant driver such that the insurance policy that covered the vehicle was implicated for liability coverage.

After reviewing the record before it, the trial court concluded that there was no evidence that the employer who owned a company vehicle had granted any permission to its employee to allow anyone other than the employee to drive the vehicle. As such, the court found that there was no evidence of any express permission to operate the vehicle that was granted to the Defendant driver.

The trial court additionally found that there was no evidence of any implied permissive use to operate the vehicle either.

Judge Lindhardt reviewed the law in this regard. Under Pennsylvania law, permission to drive a vehicle may be implied by virtue of the relationship of the parties or by virtue of a course of conduct in which the parties have mutually acquiesced.

The court noted, however, that the Pennsylvania Superior Court has stated that “‘permission’ requires something more than mere sufferance or tolerance without taking steps to prevent the use of the automobile, and permission cannot be implied by possession and use of the automobile without the knowledge of the named insured.”

The Pennsylvania Superior Court has also noted that the “critical question” will always be whether the named insured said or did something that warranted the belief that the ensuing use was with his consent.

In this case, there was no evidence that the employer had impliedly allowed its company vehicle to be used by anyone other than the employee. Also, according to the record before this court, there are indications that the Defendant driver had taken his father’s vehicle while his father was sleeping or otherwise unaware of the use of the vehicle.

In the end, the court found that there was no evidence to suggest that any expressed or implied permission had been granted to the Defendant driver to be using the vehicle at the time of the subject fatal accident. As such, the trial court granted the summary judgment motion filed by the carrier given that there was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether or not the carrier had any obligation to provide insurance coverage for the accident under the insurance policy.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

Source of image: Photo by Lazaro Rodriguez, Jr. on

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