FROM THE TWENTY-SEVENTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH OF ST.
LANDRY, NO. 16-C-1552-D HONORABLE D. JASON MECHE, DISTRICT
K. Yandle Tracy L. Oakley Angelique P. Provenzano-Walgamotte
W. Brett Cain Michael W. Landry COUNSEL FOR
DEFENDANT/APPELLANT: Safeway Insurance Company of Louisiana
J. Bassett Jeffrey Michael Bassett Kathleen E. Ryan Morrow,
Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik COUNSEL FOR
PLAINTIFFS/APPELLEES: Brandon Matt Cathy West
Gregory John Laborde Amy E. Boudreaux Daigle Rayburn LLC
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Justin Semien
composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, John D.
Saunders, and D. Kent Savoie, Judges.
KENT SAVOIE JUDGE
Insurance Company ("Safeway") appeals the trial
court's judgment rendered in favor of Plaintiffs for
damages caused by Justin Semien in connection with an auto
accident that occurred on February 27, 2016. It specifically
challenges the trial court's finding that an insurance
policy issued to Demetrius Rubin by Safeway provided
liability coverage for the subject accident. For the
following reasons, we affirm.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
August 13, 2015, Safeway issued a policy of automobile
insurance to Demetrius Rubin and his wife Dedra that provided
coverage with respect to a 2002 Ford Expedition. The policy
had a six-month term. During the first six months, a 1997
Buick LeSabre was added and then deleted from the policy, and
a 2000 Lincoln Town Car was also added. The policy was
renewed on February 13, 2016, and remained effective through
August 13, 2016.
February 16, 2016, a 1993 Lincoln Town Car was added to the
Rubins' policy. Subsequently, on February 26, 2016,
Defendant Justin Semien approached Mr. Rubin and/or Mr.
Rubin's son, Demetrius Coleman, to purchase the 1993 Town
Car. Late afternoon on Friday, February 26, 2016, Mr. Semien
paid Mr. Rubin and/or Mr. Coleman $2, 000 in cash for the
vehicle and indicated he would pay an additional $300 at a
later date. The parties dispute whether the transaction
constituted a completed sale of the vehicle and whether it
was Mr. Rubin or Mr. Coleman who owned the 1993 Town Car at
the time of the transaction. According to Mr. Rubin, the
transaction was not yet completed because Mr. Semien still
needed to transfer the title and plates to his name, register
the vehicle, and pay the remaining $300 balance. Mr. Rubin
further noted that because those events had not yet taken
place, he had authority to tell Mr. Semien whether he could
drive the vehicle that weekend. Mr. Rubin ultimately gave Mr.
Semien the keys to the vehicle and allowed him to leave with
following day, February 27, 2016, Mr. Semien drove the 1993
Town Car and was involved in an auto accident with Plaintiffs
Brandon Matt and Cathy West. On February 29, 2016, following
the Rubins' call to their insurance agent, the 1993 Town
Car was deleted from the policy, as reflected by a policy
endorsement dated the same day. Following the deletion of the
1993 Town Car from the policy, the policy covered only the
Rubins' 2000 Lincoln Town Car.
April 14, 2016, Mr. Matt and Ms. West filed a Petition
against Mr. Semien and Safeway seeking damages arising out of
the February 27, 2016 auto accident. Safeway filed an Answer
on May 16, 2016. Therein, it denied coverage, alleging that
while it had previously issued a policy to Mr. Rubin covering
the 1993 Town Car, Mr. Rubin "did not have an insurable
interest at the time of the accident" because the
vehicle had been sold to Mr. Semien on February 26, 2016.
Safeway also alleged that coverage was not available under
the policy because Mr. Rubin failed to seek or obtain consent
from Safeway to transfer or assign his interest under the
policy to Mr. Semien, as required by the policy.
Safeway policy issued to Mr. Rubin was renewed again in
August 2016 for an additional six-month term through February
2017. At the time of renewal, it provided coverage only with
respect to the Rubins' 2000 Lincoln Town Car. Pursuant to
policy endorsements, on January 12, 2017, a 1997 Buick
LeSabre was added to the policy, and on January 17, 2017, it
was deleted from the policy.
November 7, 2016, Safeway filed a Supplemental and Amended
Answer, asserting an additional coverage defense based on
alleged material misrepresentations made in connection with
Mr. Rubin acquiring insurance from Safeway. Specifically,
Safeway asserted that Mr. Rubin intentionally failed to
disclose that his son, Demetrius Coleman, was an unlicensed
resident of Mr. Rubin's household and a driver of the
vehicles insured under the policy. In addition, Safeway
alleged that Mr. Rubin misrepresented on the endorsement
application that sought to add the 1993 Town Car to the
policy that he owned the Town Car, when it was actually Mr.
Coleman who was the owner. Therefore, according to Safeway,
the policy issued to Mr. Rubin should be considered void ab
initio because of the material misrepresentations made by Mr.
Safeway policy was renewed again on February 16, 2017, for an
additional six-month term through August 16, 2017. At the
time, it provided coverage for the 2000 Lincoln Town Car.
Endorsements to the policy reflect that a 1993 Buick
Roadmaster was added on March 6, 2017, and then deleted on
March 20, 2017. Also in March 2017, the policy was set not to
renew at the end of the term. Applicable premiums were
collected through the end of the policy, and no premium
payments have been returned to the Rubins.
trial was held March 26, 2018. The trial judge ultimately
rendered a $17, 250.15 judgment against Safeway and Mr.
Semien, finding Mr. Semien solely at fault and that the
Safeway policy provided coverage to the 1993 Town Car at the
time of the accident. In its reasons for ruling, the trial
judge found that Safeway had waived the coverage defenses it
[T]he agent was aware at that time that there was another
gentlemen named Demetrius Coleman who may have also gone by
Demetrius Rubin . . . but the real Mr. Rubin signed that
acknowledging that there was at least a Demetrius Coleman in
his household. And even after that they issued and delivered
the policy, accepted the premium. This accident happened,
they continued to issue the policy, continued to accept
premiums and continued to renew it even despite what
obviously had to be a red flag with the number of vehicles
that were added and deleted throughout the course of the
policy. . . .
I'll note too . . . not even two months after the
accident there was a lawsuit. Claims should have known this
was in litigation, claims should have had an opportunity to
investigate this thing and if they had not discovered before
that there were potentially . . . some problems with the
policy . . . they certainly should have known a lot ...