Opinion by: Robert N. McDonald
Holding: Where the first permittee is not present in the vehicle, omnibus coverage does not extend to a second permittee if that driver deviates from an authorized purpose.
Facts: The named insured owned the vehicle, which was covered by Defendant’s insurance policy. Defendant’s policy contained an omnibus clause which provided coverage to (1) relatives by blood, marriage, or adoption, and (2) drivers given permission by the named insured.
Named insured had granted the first permittee unrestricted use of the car, but had forbidden the second permittee from driving the car for any reason. Despite the named insured’s wishes, first permittee directed the second permittee to use the car to pick up the first permittee's children from school. Instead of taking a direct route to the school, the second permittee first drove to a nearby gas station and subsequently collided with a car driven by Plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs filed a tort action against the second permittee, the named insured, Plaintiff’s insurer and Defendant insurer. Writ of certiorari was granted to reconsider whether omnibus coverage extended to second permittee’s use of the car without the presence of the first permittee and outside the scope of authorized use.
Analysis: Because the first permittee was undisputedly not present in the car when the accident occurred, the court’s analysis turned on the circumstances under which the second permittee operated the vehicle. The court highlighted jurisprudence showing the disjunctive nature of the test for second permittees as illustrated by Kornke, Federal Insurance Co., and Bond:
“The general rule that a permittee may not allow a third party to use the named insured’s car has generally been held not to preclude recovery under an omnibus clause where (1) the original permittee is riding in the car with the second permittee at the time of the accident, or (2) the second permittee, in using the vehicle, is serving some purpose of the original permittee.”The court noted the existence of two alternative situations. In one, where the first permittee was a passenger of the vehicle, authorization of the driver’s actions could be presumed. Even if the first permittee was not actively directing the car’s operation, mere presence of the first permittee indicated operation for his benefit. But in the second situation, where the first permittee was absent, the court required clear evidence that the driver operated the vehicle for the benefit of the first permittee in order for the second permittee to retain omnibus coverage.
The court determined that the first permittee became entitled to omnibus coverage as a blood relative regardless of any implied or express consent. Accordingly, the first permittee possessed unrestricted authority to delegate permission to the second permittee. But because the second permittee lacked the discretion to use the vehicle as he pleased, his departure from the assigned task excluded him from omnibus coverage.
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