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Insurer not liable for worker who borrowed vehicle

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

ST. LOUIS -- An employee involved in an accident while driving a company vehicle he had borrowed without permission for personal use wasn't covered by the company's insurance policy, a state appeals court ruled Tuesday.

A panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District unanimously reversed Cape Girardeau County Circuit Court Judge William Syler's ruling that the employee had implied permission to use the vehicle, obligating the insurer to cover damage arising from the accident.

On Dec. 8, 1996, Ferron McDowell borrowed a pickup truck belonging to Pense Brothers Drilling Inc. of Fredericktown, Mo., to run a personal errand when he was involved in a head-on collision with a vehicle driven by Ronald J. Wolk Jr.

Pense Brothers had a policy that prohibited employees from using its vehicles for personal purposes, although it allowed some management employees to take vehicles home. However, McDowell, who was not in management, stated in a deposition that although he was aware of the policy and did not ask permission to borrow the vehicle, he believed his employer would have allowed the use had he asked.

No implied permission

In seeking to collect from the company's insurer, Bituminous Casualty Corp., Wolk claimed that McDowell's belief constituted implied permission to use the truck. The appeals court disagreed.

"According to claimant this shows employee reasonably believed he had permission. To the contrary, we find it shows that employee knew he did not have permission," Judge Lawrence G. Crahan wrote for the court.

Wolk further argued that the fact that the company did not pursue criminal charges against McDowell for taking the vehicle, discipline him or require him to pay for the damage to the truck bolstered the presence of implied permission. The appeals court said such matters are irrelevant as they occurred after the fact.

The court ordered Syler to vacate his ruling in favor of Wolk and enter a summary judgment releasing the insurer from liability.

The case is Bituminous Casualty Corp. v. Farron David McDowell, et al.

mpowers@semissourian.com

(573) 635-4608


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