Originally Published May 22, 2015
People in car accidents, be warned: if you’re in a collision on the way to work, you probably won’t be covered by your company’s insurance policy.
Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled in April 2015 against a DC lawyer’s argument that his firm’s insurance should pay the plaintiff suing him. The lawyer-defendant, H. Christopher Bartolomucci, was being sued for $1 million, but his liability coverage only extended to $100,000.
Bartolomucci argued that he should fall under his firm’s coverage for a simple reason: he was thinking about work as he drove to work. And if that’s not enough to convince you, he further argued that because he uses his home as an office, he was in fact traveling “between work locations.”
The Court was not swayed by his argument, noting that he failed to recall “what he was thinking at the time of the collision.” But even if he could, Justice LeRoy F. Millette wrote in his opinion:
...merely thinking about work does not make a commute “in” the business, as contemplated by the policy language. The record does not indicate that Bartolomucci billed for any activity or otherwise performed any work during his commute. Also, Bartolomucci was not reimbursed by Hogan Lovells for his commute.
What’s especially interesting about this case is that it overturned a lower court’s jury verdict – one that was indeed swayed by Bartolomucci’s arguments.
That a jury found for Bartolomucci illustrates precisely why these lawsuits take so long to complete. Insurance policies are thorny, deliberately difficult to parse, and the laws surrounding them are often ambiguous. And while one court after another debates the meaning of work, the victims are left hanging: unable to work, unable to pay bills, unable to become whole again. For the defendants, this is not a bug in the system – it’s a feature.
The justice system is slow by design, but life beyond it outside goes by at the same speed. Defendants can usually afford to wait for justice. Plaintiffs cannot.
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