Massachusetts “Snowbirds” Denied Liability Coverage for Accident Involving Vehicle Garaged in Florida and Driven by Family Member There

Most Cape Cod car accident cases focus primarily on the personal injury aspect of the accident at hand. However, there is another potential claim in most car crash cases: property damage.

The reason that we rarely hear about the property damage aspect of a plaintiff’s case is that such claims are usually relatively small compared to personal injury claims, and, because less money is at stake, more apt to settle out of court. This is often true even when the personal injury portion of the case is highly contested and eventually proceeds to trial.

In a recent federal case, however, there was a rare exception to this general rule. When you consider the value of one of the vehicles involved in the collision – a Lamborghini worth over $100,000 – it is easy to understand why the insurance companies decided to fight about which was responsible for paying for the car, all the way to the federal court of appeals.

Facts of the Case

A recent federal appeals court case arose as a result of an accident that took place in Florida. The owners of the vehicle were “snowbirds,” meaning that they lived in Massachusetts part of the year and in Florida during part of the year. When the snowbirds added the vehicle – a Toyota Highlander – to their policy, they asserted that the principal place of garaging for the vehicle was in Massachusetts and that the snowbird policyholders were the customary drivers. As it turned out, however, the accident happened in Florida when the Highlander was being driven by the snowbirds’ daughter. In response to a request that the snowbirds’ insurance company “help pay for the bulk of the personal and property damage,” which included substantial damage to a Lamborghini worth over $100,000, the snowbirds’ insurance company rescinded coverage on the grounds that the snowbirds had breached their obligations under the policy by making material misrepresentations.

The snowbirds insurance company filed suit in federal court against the snowbirds and the insurance company that had coverage on the Lamborghini. The district court granted summary judgment in the favor of the snowbirds’ insurance company.

Decision of the Court

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling. According to the appellate court, the issue was simple: did the snowbirds commit a material misrepresentation sufficient for their insurance company to rescind coverage under the policy and under the applicable Massachusetts law? Although the opposing insurance company contended that there were genuine factual disputes that precluded summary judgment, the appellate tribunal disagreed. In the court’s view, the renewal form sent to the snowbirds by their insurance company established a duty on the snowbirds to inform their insurance company that the Highlander’s principal place of garaging was in Florida and that their daughter was one of the customary drivers.

In so holding, the court noted that the Highlander was parked at the snowbirds’ daughter’s house in Florida during the time that the snowbirds were in Massachusetts (several months each year) and that the daughter was permitted to drive the vehicle as often as she pleased, which was around three times per week. Because the daughter was a customary driver for more than half the year, the snowbirds should have disclosed her as such to the insurance company. Whether the misrepresentation was innocent or intentional did not matter, in the reviewing court’s opinion.

Speak with a Car Accident Attorney in Cape Cod

If you need helping filing a personal injury claim resulting from a Cape Cod car accident, the Law Offices of John C. Manoog III can help. Phone us at 888-262-6664 for an appointment, or use the contact page of this website. We are open and serving clients during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we will do our best to serve your needs in as safe and efficient a manner as possible. In some situations, we can arrange for home or hospital visits.

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