Permissive-User Ruling That Denied Coverage Reversed

Permissive-User Ruling That Denied Coverage Reversed

Earlier this year, Lear Werts attorney Todd Werts submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys to the Supreme Court of Missouri in the case of Griffitts v. Old Republic Insurance Company, et al urging the court to reverse the lower court’s ruling. Earlier today, the Court handed down its 7-0 opinion reversing the trial court decision.

The issue in Griffitts was whether an an insurance policy could exclude coverage based on a permissive driver’s use of a borrowed auto, as opposed to the operation of that auto. Here, the driver unquestionably had been given permission to possess and operate a company vehicle. However, on the of the crash giving rise to the case, the permissive user was intoxicated. The insurance company argued that since the owner of the company had a general rule against drinking and driving that the driver did not have permission to drive the vehicle in an intoxicated state. But the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a line of cases dating back to Weathers v. Royal Indem. Co., 577 S.W.2d 623, 626 (Mo. banc 1979) which interpreted the “omnibus clause” required in automobile insurance policies under Missouri’s Motor Vehicle Financial Responsibility Law (MVFRL).

Under the MVFRL, any car insurance policy in Missouri must have an omnibus insurance clause which provides coverage for “the person named therein and any other person … using any such motor vehicle or motor vehicles with the express or implied permission of such named insured.” RSMo. § 303.190.2(2). The Weathers court, as reaffirmed by Griffitts, requires that such clauses be interpreted broadly to extend rather than limit coverage. As such, it was error for the Griffitts trial court to narrowly construe the omnibus clause at issue, and deny coverage when the driver who was given permission to use his company-owned but operated it in violation of his company’s policy.

A copy of the Court’s opinion can be accessed here.