Missouri Supreme Court to consider auto-owner insurance liability where accident-causing permissive driver fails to follow the owner’s rules or policies.

December 20, 2017

On December 19, 2017, the Missouri Supreme Court accepted transfer in Griffitts vs. Old Republic Insurance Company, et al., Case No. SC96740, after an opinion by the Southern District in Case No. SD34753.  The case involves a plaintiff who was seriously injured after being struck by a railroad employee who had general permission to use the railroad’s vehicle, but who at the time of the collision was driving under the influence in violation of his employer’s rules. Plaintiff made a claim to the railroad’s insurer under a provision of the policy providing coverage for permissive vehicle users. The insurance company denied coverage on grounds that the employee lost his permission to operate the vehicle by violating the employer’s rules.

The coverage issue was litigated through an equitable garnishment action against the employer and the insurer. The Southern District Court of Appeals issued an opinion holding that the employee’s general permission to use the vehicle was voided by his violation of the employer’s rules, making the driver uninsured. The plaintiff’s transfer application argued that the Southern District opinion was in conflict with two Missouri Supreme Court and three Missouri appellate court opinions and contrary to long-standing Missouri policy of ensuring minimal standards of insurance coverage for all persons injured on Missouri highways.