Louisiana Record

Saturday, August 17, 2019

1st Circuit affirms judgment in favor of insurer in personal injury case

By Glenn Minnis | May 3, 2018

BATON ROUGE — The Louisiana 1st Circuit Court of Appeal has affirmed a trial court’s summary judgment verdict in a personal injury lawsuit in favor of an insurance company named as a defendant.

Martha Hinchcliffe was a driving instructor with Louisiana Safety and Driving Academy (LSDA) in 2015 when she sustained serious injuries in a crash where student driver Edna Siaotong was steering the vehicle, according to information in the ruling.

At the time of the incident, LSDA had a commercial automobile insurance policy with Progressive Insurance, and Siaotong had a personal automobile insurance policy with Shelter Mutual Insurance Co., according to the ruling. In August 2016, Hinchcliffe named both insurers and Siaotong as defendants in a suit seeking damages for injuries that included a broken leg and ankle, multiple spine fractures and soft tissue injuries.

Soon after that, Stonetrust Commercial Insurance Co., the workers' compensation carrier of LSDA, filed a motion for leave to file a petition of intervention. As part of the petition, the insurer insisted that at the time of the accident, “Hinchcliffe was an employee of LSDA working in the course and scope of her employment and that Stonetrust had paid and/or would become obligated to pay medical expenses and indemnity benefits to Hinchcliffe.”

Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting “that its policy of liability insurance issued to LSDA excluded coverage for Hinchcliffe's loss on the ground that the accident at issue and Hinchliffe's damages were bodily injury to an employee of any insured arising out of or within the course of that employee's employment by any insured."

As the proceedings progressed, the lower court issued a ruling in favor of Progressive, dismissing Hinchliffe's claims against the insurer with prejudice.

In rendering its verdict and upholding the lower court's ruling, the high court asserted, “the Progressive policy provides that coverage under Part 1, Liability to others, does not apply to: Employee Indemnification and Employer's Liability Bodily Injury to an employee of any insured arising out of or within the course of that employee's employment by any insured.”

The court added “it is undisputed that Hinchcliffe, an employee of LSDA, the named insured, sustained bodily injury while in the course and scope of her employment with LSDA. As such, the plain language of the exclusion clearly applies to the facts of the instant case and excludes coverage for Hinchcliffe's damages.”

Finally, the three-judge appeals court panel asserted that the liability exclusion in Progressive’s policy does not conflict with the statutory provisions of public policy.

Hinchcliffe, who was also ordered to pay all costs for the appeal, was represented in the proceedings by James L. Maughan of Zachary LA, while LSDA was repped by William C. Helm and Stephen F. Butterfield of Kinchen, Walker, Bienvenu, Bargas, Reed & Helm LLC.

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Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal