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Florida Fourth DCA rules that in determining monetary limits for vehicle owner liability under Fla. Stat. 324.021, insurance proceeds available to at-fault driver include coverage under owner’s policy.

On March 25, 2020, in Walker v. Geico Indemnity Company, et al. No. 4D18-3706, the Florida Fourth DCA affirmed a trial court ruling for the defense in a motor vehicle negligence case, holding that the at-fault vehicle in the accident was limited under Fla. Stat. Section 324.021(9)(b)(3) to $100,000 in liability insurance. The at-fault driver in the case was the son of the at-fault vehicle’s owner. The owner had $250,000 in liability insurance under a $250K/$500K policy, under which the at-fault driver was a permissive user. These limits were paid to the plaintiff under a settlement agreement under which the payment was agreed not to release the driver, but only to act as a set-off for any judgment the driver might eventually owe to the plaintiff. The son had $100,000 in additional liability insurance under his own policy with Geico, as well as additional insurance with Allstate and Standard Fire Insurance Company. When Geico refused to tender its limits, the son’s rights under the policy were assigned to the plaintiff, and this lawsuit followed against both the son and the vehicle owner. The owner moved for summary judgment, maintaining that the payment of the $250,000 absolved the owner of any further liability under Fla. Stat. Section 324.021(9)(b)(3), which limits the liability of vehicle owners entrusting their vehicles to permissive users to $100,000 per person and up to $300,000 per incident for bodily injury and up to $50,000 for property damage. However, if the permissive user of the motor vehicle is uninsured or has any insurance with limits less than $500,000 combined property damage and bodily injury liability, the owner shall be liable for up to an additional $500,000 in economic damages only arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. The owner argued that that his Allstate coverage (which covered the son) should be added to added to the son’s insurance to meet the $500,000 combined limit. The plaintiff argued that the vehicle owner’s Allstate coverage of $250,000 could not be used to both satisfy the vehicle owner’s maximum liability under his policy and count towards the driver’s combined policy limits. In affirming the trial court, the Fourth DCA noted that there was no language in the statute excluding insurance policy payments under a vehicle owner’s policy from the calculation of a permissive user’s combined policy limits.

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