Driver Got Your Car

Driver Got Your Car

Driver Got Your Car

Smith, Freed & Eberhard associate Kerri Gettmann recently achieved an exceptional result of summary judgment for her client, the owner of a vehicle that was being driven by a co-defendant when it struck the plaintiff’s vehicle during a police chase.

The Background Story

During a police chase in January 2015, the plaintiff was struck head-on by a vehicle owned by Kerri’s client.  The vehicle was used by Kerri’s client and her son.  Kerri’s client was not the driver of the vehicle, nor did she know the driver or how the driver came to be driving her vehicle.  In the days leading up to the accident, the son had the vehicle and was staying at a friend’s house when the driver took the car.  Neither Kerri’s client nor her son gave the driver permission to drive the car.

Plaintiff sustained catastrophic injuries following the accident, racking up past medical bills of over $638,000, and past wage loss of $55,000 with unknown future medical and lost earning capacity.   Plaintiff sued not only Kerri’s client, but also the driver of Kerri’s client’s vehicle, and the City of Kent.  The claims against Kerri’s client were based on theories of negligent entrustment, family purpose, and vicarious liability.

The Strategy

In handling this matter, Kerri’s focus was to get her client, who had no involvement with the accident, and did not know the driver of her vehicle at the time of this accident, out of the case as quickly and painlessly as possible, particularly given the significant risk of excess exposure.  Initially, the goal was to persuade the plaintiff to accept a policy limits offer of $25,000, but because the plaintiff also had claims against the city of Kent, the plaintiff was unwilling to settle due to joint and several liability.  The focus then shifted to developing an argument that Kerri’s client was not liable for the plaintiff’s damages at all.  To this end, Kerri’s team began a thorough investigation of the facts of this accident with a specific emphasis on the driver, which included listening to and transcribing hours upon hours of jailhouse calls in which she discussed Kerri’s client and her son.

The Outcome

Ultimately, Kerri filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that there was no legal basis for holding her client liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.  After all, Kerri’s client had never met the driver, and she certainly didn’t give her permission, express or implied, to use the vehicle.  Thus, there was no theory of vicarious liability, whether employer/employee, principal/agent, or the family car doctrine that applied to this case.  In Plaintiff’s response the motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff attempted to add claims of negligent entrustment against Kerri’s client.    Kerri and her team prepared an airtight motion and reply to Plaintiff’s opposition, and she successfully argued it before the judge. As a result, the plaintiff went from declining a policy limit demand and putting Kerri’s client at risk for an excess judgment to owing a jury demand fee and statutory attorney fees to Kerri’s client as the prevailing party.