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Great American Alliance Insurance Co. v. Anderson

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

February 8, 2017

GREAT AMERICAN ALLIANCE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
ULYSSES ANDERSON, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia D.C. No. 1:14-cv-00112-JRH-BKE

          Before ED CARNES, Chief Judge, ANDERSON, Circuit Judge, and CHAPPELL, [*] District Judge.

          CHAPPELL, District Judge

          The appellant was involved in a car accident with an intoxicated driver who was driving a company vehicle with his employer's permission. After a jury found the driver liable and awarded the appellant one million dollars, the employer's insurance company, the appellee, filed this suit for a declaration that the driver was not a permissive user - and thus not covered under the applicable insurance policies - because he broke internal company policies.

         Except where specifically excluded, the general purpose of an insurance policy is to provide coverage. The Georgia Supreme Court has held that inquiries into permissive use should extend only to whether a vehicle is used for an approved purpose. See Strickland v. Georgia Cas. & Sur. Co., 224 Ga. 487, 162 S.E.2d 421 (Ga. 1968). A subsequent decision by the Georgia Court of Appeals, however, held that a company's internal rules can govern the scope of permissive use, and that violations thereof can negate an individual's status as an insured. See Barfield v. Royal Ins. Co. of Am. 228 Ga.App. 841, 492 S.E.2d 688 (Ga.Ct.App. 1997). Because the district court followed Barfield, and thereby narrowed the scope of permissive use beyond what was permitted by Strickland, we find that it erred. Therefore, we reverse and remand.

          I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Overview

         In 1996, Looper Cabinet Co., Inc. ("LCC"), a Georgia company, hired Brian Hensley to perform services auxiliary to cabinet installation. In the years that followed, LCC permitted Hensley to drive its 2008 Chevrolet Silverado (the "Looper Vehicle") for both work and personal purposes. In addition, LCC's owner admitted that under the general permission granted to Hensley, he was allowed to drive the Looper Vehicle to and from his father's lake house. Hensley exercised this privilege in early June of 2012, and stayed there for some time.

         On June 10, 2012, Hensley drank four beers before driving the Looper Vehicle home from the lake house. While driving, he encountered Appellant-Ulysses Anderson, who approached the Looper Vehicle from behind on a motorcycle. The parties dispute the ensuing facts, but they agree that Anderson attempted to pass Hensley resulting in an accident that left Anderson severely injured.

         Thereafter, Anderson sued Hensley and LCC, alleging that Hensley drove the Looper Vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and caused the accident. Although LCC was dropped as a defendant, a jury found Hensley liable and awarded Anderson approximately one million dollars in damages.

          1. LCC Internal Policies

         For two decades, LLC's internal policies have banned alcoholic beverages on company property and prohibited employees under the influence of alcohol from working in the shop on and off the clock. LLC has also had a substance abuse policy that states, in pertinent part,

[a]n employee reporting to work visibly impaired will be deemed unable to properly perform required duties and will not be allowed to work. If, in the opinion of the supervisor, the employee is considered impaired, the employee will be sent home or to a medical facility by taxi or other safe transportation alternative - depending on the determination of the observed impairment and accompanied by the supervisor or another employee if necessary. A drug and/or alcohol test may be in ...

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