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COA: Policy doesn't cover car in accident

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in favor of an insurance company in a suit seeking compensation for damages by the insured's grandson after a car accident. The appellate court also used the opinion to remind counsel of the rules for filing appendices.

The Court of Appeals reversed summary judgment in favor of Alexis and Amber Wroblewski and their mother Christine Lewis, in Motorists Mutual Insurance Co. v. Alexis Wroblewski, et al., No. 46A03-0807-CV-352. Amber was riding in Aaron Litherland's car, which was involved in an accident. He got the car as a 16th birthday present from his grandparents and legal guardians, Bertha and Robert Shemberger. The car was insured by a different company than Motorists Mutual, who insured the Shembergers' cars. Bertha signed the financial responsibility form pursuant to Indiana statute, which requires a minor's application for a driver's license to be signed and sworn by a guardian willing to assume joint responsibility for any injury or damage the minor causes while driving if the minor is liable.

The Wroblewskis filed a suit following the accident and named Bertha as a defendant bearing financial responsibility. The trial court entered judgment against Bertha for nearly $100,000. Then the family filed a suit against Motorists Mutual, claiming the company's policy provided coverage to Bertha for the judgment entered against her. The trial court entered summary judgment in favor of the Wroblewskis and denied the insurer's motion for summary judgment.

Bertha's policy with Motorists Mutual clearly provides no liability coverage for Aaron's car because it doesn't cover any vehicle that's owned by any family member, other than Bertha's covered cars, wrote Judge Patricia Riley. The appellate court cited the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals case, Cincinnati Ins. Co. v. Moen, 940 F.2d 1069, 1074-75 (7th Cir. 1991), which held that identical exclusionary language in a homeowner's police released an insurer from liability when the family member owned the non-covered automobile in the accident. Bertha may have been liable because of Indiana Code, but her insurer's policy language determines whether the liability is covered by Motorists Mutual, wrote the judge. The case was remanded with instructions to enter summary judgment in favor of Motorists Mutual.

The opinion also reminds parties to give the court a complete appellate appendix. The insurer's original appendix didn't include any of the documents needed for review and the Wroblewskis' appendix only presented a transcript of the hearing on the motions for summary judgment. Motorists Mutual submitted a supplemental appendix after the appellate court issued an order.

"As no designated materials were before us, Motorists Mutual's issue on appeal would surely have been waived. Lately, this court has seen an increase in the filing of incomplete appendices," wrote the judge. "We strongly caution counsel to familiarize themselves with the appellate rules governing the filing of appendices."

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