Automobile Liability Insurer Remains in Lawsuit Despite Executory Judgment

The Louisiana Court of Appeal for the First Circuit recently reversed a trial court’s decision to grant an automobile liability insurer’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of whether an insurance policy was null and void and therefore did not provide coverage for the motor vehicle accident.

Francis Garcia, et al. v. Manuel Martinez, et al.

In Francis Garcia, et al. v. Manuel Martinez, et al., 2019 CA 0010 (La. App. 1 Cir. 09/27/19), the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against Manuel Martinez (the defendant driver), Tanya Mejia-Nunez (owner of the vehicle operated by Mr. Martinez), and the automobile liability insurer, Safeway Insurance Company, for injuries arising out of a motor vehicle accident in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.

Thereafter, Safeway filed a Petition for Declaratory Judgment in a Mississippi Circuit Court seeking a declaration that the automobile liability insurance policy issued to Ms. Mejia-Nunez was null and void and the policy provided no coverage for the subject accident because Ms. Mejia-Nunez submitted material misrepresentations and/or false warranties on the insurance application.

The Mississippi Circuit Court granted Safeway’s requested relief. The Mississippi judgment was thereafter made executory in Louisiana, which dismissed Safeway from the lawsuit, with prejudice.

LOUISIANA FIRST CIRCUIT FINDINGS

The plaintiffs then filed a motion for new trial on the issue, which was granted (the appellate court opinion did not advise why). After Safeway’s Exception of No Cause of Action was denied as to the plaintiffs’ motion, Safeway filed an Exception of No Right of Action, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that there are no genuine issues of material fact that the Mississippi court had declared that the Safeway policy was null and void and Mississippi judgment was made executory in Louisiana.

In reversing the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment, the Louisiana First Circuit found that the Mississippi judgment revealed several disputed material facts that were necessary in determining whether Safeway provided coverage for the subject accident. For example, the Mississippi judgment expressly declared that Safeway was not obligated under the policy for an accident involving a vehicle owned by Ms. Mejia-Nunez and operated by Jose de Aza; however, the driver in the present suit was Manuel Martinez. Also, in support of Safeway’s summary judgment motion, a Safeway claims adjuster testified in an affidavit about her knowledge of the claims made the basis of the subject suit. However, that affidavit was filed in another parish and in another lawsuit that named Ms. Mejia-Nunez as a party.

The Louisiana First Circuit ultimately determined that Safeway failed to put forth any evidence to connect the insurance policy in the Mississippi judgment to the policy at issue in the Louisiana lawsuit.  The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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