Permissive Driver Coverage In Texas

How does someone living in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Mansfield, Fort Worth, Keller, Bedford, Hurst, Euless, Irving, De Soto, Duncanville, Burleson, Granbury, or anywhere else in Texas, know when an unlisted driver on an insurance policy is covered if an accident occurs? This is the third of three posts in a row on this subject. The following is what happened in a third case addressing this topic.
In 1989, the Texas Supreme Court, in the case, United States Fire Insurance Company v. United Service Automobile Association, discussed the issue of permissive driver coverage. This case involved a dispute between insurance companies over which had the duty to defend Anna Milliken, a passenger in an automobile, who allegedly caused an accident by grabbing the steering wheel of a moving vehicle. One policy was issued by United States Fire Insurance Company (Fire) and covered the automobile involved in the accident. The other was issued by United Service Automobile Association and insured the father of the passenger, Anna Milliken. The courts ruled that Fire had responsibility in this case.
The claim arose out of an accident that occurred when Anna was riding back with Douglas Martin from a church sponsored retreat. The car Douglas was driving was owned by his father and was covered by the Fire policy. Douglas testified that there was some swerving and horseplay prior to the accident. Anna testified that Douglas was zigzagging the wheel back and forth prior to the accident and that she grabbed the wheel on two occasions prior to the accident in an effort to play back with him. The first time Douglas did not object, and the second time was immediately prior to the accident. Anna testified that she and Douglas were “just kind of playing around.”
The issue in this case was whether or not Anna was a permissive user of the automobile and thus covered under the policy of insurance.
First, the court considered whether Anna was a user of the automobile. The court conclude that at the time of the accident, it was undisputed that Anna was riding as a passenger in the automobile and this fact alone constitutes a “use” of the automobile. Thus, she was a user.
Next, the court looked to see if she was “operating” the automobile. They concluded that Anna was also “operating” the vehicle when she grabbed the steering wheel. By grabbing the wheel and exerting a force on it, she obtained control of the vehicle, even though for only an instant.
The final issue was whether or not Anna had permission to be operating the automobile. The issue on this point was not whether or not Douglas considered her to have permission. The focus by the court was whether or not Anna had a reasonable belief that she was entitled to grab the steering wheel when she did. In light of the testimony to facts in this case the court concluded that she did believe she had permission to act as she did and thus she became a covered driver under the policy of insurance.
These cases are fact specific and when someone finds themselves in a position having to argue this one way or the other, it is vital that an experienced Insurance Law Attorney be consulted.