Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules Trucking Accident Victim May Sue Insurer With Out of State Policy – Casper v. American International South Insurance Co.

By July 27, 2011July 17th, 2019Trucking Accidents, Verdicts and Settlements

As a Missouri semi truck accident attorney, I sometimes handle trucking accident claims in which the client sues the trucking insurance company directly, in addition to or instead of suing the trucker and trucking company. Until recently, this was only possible in Wisconsin when the trucking insurance policy in question was issued for delivery within the state of Wisconsin. But in Casper v. American International South Insurance Co., the state Supreme Court overruled that precedent and allowed the Casper family to sue American International. The court also ruled that plaintiffs in general may sue corporate officers for non-intentional actions, though it did not allow a claim against the trucking company’s COO in this case.
The Casper family’s minivan was stopped at an intersection in 2003 when a tractor-trailer driven by Mark Wearing rear-ended it at 40 mph. All four Caspers and passenger Sara Janey were injured. Michael Casper, a minor, was rendered a quadriplegic; Janey suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost the use of one kidney. Investigators found that Wearing was abusing three prescription drugs at the time of the crash. Wearing also testified at trial that his employer, Bestway Systems Inc., had given him a route he had objected to as too long to fit federal hours of service restrictions, but a supervisor had told him to lie about his hours or face firing. Bestway’s COO, Jeffrey Wenham, allegedly approved a route that the Caspers’ expert later said was illegally long. The Caspers sued Wenham as an individual for negligent training and supervision and violations of federal trucking laws.
In trial court, Wenham successfully moved for summary judgment, arguing that he could not be held personally liable for actions at work. After consideration, the trial court let stand only a claim that Wenham should not have approved the route Wearing took. Wearing was co-employed by another trucking company named TLC, whose insurance company the Caspers sued directly. In a separate cause of action, that insurer, National Union, successfully moved for summary judgment because its policy was not issued for delivery within Wisconsin. Both sides appealed and the appeals court affirmed, giving rise to the instant appeal.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court first dispensed with a procedural question, then turned to the issue of whether National Union could be sued directly under Wisconsin law. The law says parties may sue insurers for “all insurance policies … delivered or issued for delivery in this state, on property ordinarily located in this state, on persons residing in this state when the policy or certificate is issued, or on business operations in this state.” A previous Court of Appeals case had interpreted this to mean the policy must be delivered or issued for delivery in Wisconsin. But the Supreme Court, construing a long legislative history, unanimously held that the law applies to any liability insurance policy “so long as the accident or injury occurs in this state.”
It next examined whether Wenham could be held personally liable for negligently approving the allegedly illegal route taken by Wearing — and decided that he could. The Supreme Court noted that employees and officers can be personally liable regardless of whether their employers are also liable. It dismissed an argument by Wenham that finding him liable would create bad public policy that would hold any corporate officer of a trucking company responsible for any accident based on any negligence claim. This is overstatement, the court said. However, it agreed that the facts of this case — Wenham never even met Wearing — make holding Wenham responsible against public policy. Thus, it upheld the circuit court but made new law in Wisconsin on both issues.
As a southern Illinois tractor-trailer accident lawyer, I am pleased by this ruling. Trucking accident attorneys in Wisconsin have been handed two powerful new tools to help their clients recover damages. Making insurance companies directly liable may do no more than suing their insureds would do, but it skips the middle man. And having the ability to hold corporate officers personally responsible helps expand the pool of potential defendants. This matters in a case like Michael Casper’s and Sara Janey’s because they have suffered permanent, severe disabilities that will require a lifetime of treatment. In addition to changing their lives forever, practically and emotionally, this will require a lifetime of expensive medical care. That’s why, as a St. Louis 18-wheeler accident attorney, I work hard to get my clients the maximum possible compensation for their injuries.


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