Court upholds denial of insurance coverage; finds presumption of consent is rebutted
The Estate of Sarah Nicole Campanelli sued Deborah Hayes and others for negligence. Hayes was the owner of a vehicle which she had loaned to her daughter. The daughter provided the keys to a friend, Kuikahi-LaLonde, who was operating the vehicle negligently when the Plaintiff's decedent was killed. Hayes' insurer argued that it was not responsible for the Plaintiff's decedent's injuries because the driver "K-L" did not have permission to drive it. The trial judge heard the case without a jury and ruled in favor of Hayes and her insurer. The Estate appealed.Under the law, when an owner entrusts the keys of a vehicle to a non-family member, a presumption of consent to operate is created. This presumption can only be overturned by the admission of "positive, unequivocal, strong and credible" evidence that no consent was expressed or implied. The Estate pointed to ambiguity and inconsistency in the daughter's account of her instructions to the driver, including the fact that she and the driver gave differing accounts of why no permission was given, to support its claim that the Adams' consent testimony was not credible. It also pointed to the disputed testimony of a third-party who initially confirmed that permission had been given. The Estate also pointed to the fact that the daughter did not call police when she discovered the vehicle gone and did not file a police report until much later.
Despite the cumulative effect of this testimony, the Court of Appeals upheld the judgment against the Estate and ruled that the insurer was not obligated to pay the victim any coverage that Adams had purchased. It is a typical Kirsten F. Kelly opinion: her opinions always find a way to rule against any victim and in favor of the insurer.