Man Able to Recover Damages from Injuries Caused by Substitute Driver

A West Virginia appeals court has ruled that a driver can recover damages for a head injury suffered when someone else drove his rental car, even though the driver had signed a rental contract that excluded other drivers, according to the West Virginia Record.

West Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Nov. 25 affirmed the ruling of a circuit judge, who placed liability on Empire Fire and Marine Insurance and Enterprise Rent a Car.

When Wang-Yu Lin rented a car from Enterprise in Clarksburg, W.Va., the contract stated, “Use of vehicle by an unauthorized driver will affect my liability and rights under this agreement.” He also bought a $1 million supplemental liability policy from Empire.

But after becoming tired while driving, Lin let passenger Shin Yi-Lin (no relation) take the wheel. The substitute driver wrecked the car, and Wang-Yu Lin suffered injuries that would cost about $300,000 to treat. After Empire denied his claim for coverage, he sued in 2006.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker granted summary judgment in Lin’s favor, ruling that under state auto insurance law, a policy covers anyone driving with permission.

Although the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling, the court implied that Enterprise and Empire would have prevailed if they had argued the case before Walker the way they would argue it later before the Justices.

On appeal, Empire and Enterprise tried to persuade the justices that state law on licenses for rental companies should bar Lin’s claim. The law allows sales of policies covering “renters and other authorized drivers.” The justices threw out that argument, even though they agreed with it, saying the appellants did not raise this issue in their cross motion for summary judgment.

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