As a southern Illinois big rig accident attorney, I was interested to read a Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision on insurance coverage in a fatal trucking accident. Clarendon National Insurance Company v. Medina et al stems from a jackknifing incident that sent a trailer across a highway and killed driver Michael Walter Schulman. Schulman’s parents sued the driver, Guillermo Medina; his employer, Town Trucking Company; and his wife, Maria Medina, who was the legal owner of the truck. The lawsuit eventually settled with a $2 million consent judgment against Town and the Medinas, with $1 million coming from Town’s trucking insurance and $1 million coming from insurance for Guillermo Medina.
Medina’s insurer, Clarendon, refused to pay because the language of its policy said the coverage does not apply to “a covered auto while in the business of anyone to whom the auto is rented.” The Medinas, Town and the Schulmans argued that Guillermo Medina could not have rented the truck to Town because he did not own it. A federal trial court disagreed and ruled in favor of Clarendon. This appeal followed.
On appeal, the Seventh was skeptical of the claim that Guillermo Medina could not have rented the truck to Town. Guillermo Medina signed his contract with Town with his wife’s knowledge and encouragement, used the truck with her knowledge and deposited his pay in a joint account, the court said. Furthermore, federal law defines an “owner” more broadly than the holder of the title of the truck; for regulatory purposes, an owner can be someone who has exclusive use of the truck even though he or she may not have the title. Town was not aware that Maria Medina was the true owner of the truck, the court said, but this doesn’t mean Guillermo Media could not have been acting on her behalf when he signed his agreement with Town. Finally, the court ruled that their agreement did indeed constitute “renting” or “leasing” the truck within the meaning of the insurance policy. Thus, the Seventh upheld the trial court’s decision that Clarendon need not pay.
This decision, despite its length, is fairly simple; it relies on the plain wording of the insurance policies and the law. As a Missouri tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I appreciate that the ruling must be disappointing to the Schulmans, who are unlikely to get the full value of their claim. The Medinas are unlikely to have $1 million in personal assets with which to satisfy the judgment, so the Schulmans will almost certainly have to drop their efforts to collect the full $2 million. This is one reason truckers carry their own insurance, as well as the trucking company’s insurance: They simply cannot afford to pay these kinds of damages as individuals. Commercial truck accidents are so serious and deadly that the damages will almost always be large. That’s why, as a St. Louis semi truck accident attorney, I do my best to maximize the damages coming from insurance, rather than individuals or small businesses.
When the negligence of a trucker or a trucking company causes a deadly crash, victims have the right to hold them legally and financially responsible. Carey, Danis & Lowe focuses its practice on accidents involving large trucks. To tell us your story and learn more about your legal rights, call us today at 1-877-678-3400 or send us a message online.
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