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Rear-ended driver loses appeal vs. driver who suddenly stopped

March 15, 2018

A driver whose vehicle was rear-ended after the driver in front of him suddenly stopped cannot sue the driver who stopped due to a release he signed with the motorist whose car collided with his.

Eric Dulworth was driving on West Jefferson Boulevard in Fort Wayne on Aug. 22, 2014. Approaching the intersection with Webster Street, a vehicle driven by Melissa Bermudez came to a sudden stop. Dulworth stopped before colliding with Bermudez’s car, but a car behind Dulworth’s driven by Charity Cherneski struck the back of his car, causing injury and property damage.

Dulworth later signed a release with Cherneski and her insurer, Founders Insurance Co. He received $25,000, but the release also acquitted and discharged “all other persons, firms, corporations, associations or partnerships” from any claims resulting from the crash.  

The release was the evidence the Allen Superior Court cited in granting summary judgment when Dulworth sued Bermudez and her insurance carrier, Progressive. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Thursday in Eric Dulworth v. Melissa Bermudez and Progressive Southeastern Insurance Company, 02A05-1707-PL-1556.

“As we determined the Release between Dulworth and Cherneski to be unambiguous, we establish the intent of the Release from the four corners of the instrument and cannot consider extrinsic evidence,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote for the unanimous panel.

“Therefore, there remain no genuine issues of material fact and we affirm the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of Bermudez.”

The panel also rejected Dulworth’s pursuit of uninsured motorist insurance against Progressive. “As Dulworth admitted that he failed to recover any sums from Bermudez, whom he claimed to be at fault for the accident, in satisfaction of his claim, he breached the policy and is barred from pursuing UIM benefits from Progressive,” Riley wrote. “Furthermore, under the terms of the policy, Dulworth was required to notify Progressive of any bona fide offer of agreement or settlement. Dulworth never notified Progressive of the Release prior to its execution and prior to releasing Bermudez of any further litigation.”

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