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Wagner v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co.

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Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Hartford At Hartford

July 11, 2022, Decided; July 11, 2022, Filed

NO.: HHD-CV21-6139450-S

Reporter

2022 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1740 *

KEVIN WAGNER v. PROGRESSIVE DIRECT INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL.

Notice: THIS DECISION IS UNREPORTED AND MAY BE SUBJECT TO FURTHER APPELLATE REVIEW. COUNSEL IS CAUTIONED TO MAKE AN INDEPENDENT DETERMINATION OF THE STATUS OF THIS CASE.

Core Terms

apportionment, allegations, Trucking, motion to strike, coverage, carrier, rental, motor vehicle, quotation, renters, marks

Judges:  [*1] Sheridan, J.

Opinion by: Sheridan

Opinion


MEMORANDUM OF DECISION RE EAN HOLDINGS, LLC’s MOTION TO STRIKE (#124)

The apportionment defendant/defendant EAN Holdings, LLC (“EAN Holdings”) has moved to strike Count Four of the plaintiffs amended complaint and Count Three of the apportionment complaint brought by defendant Progressive Direct Ins. Co. (“Progressive”). EAN contends that those counts are legally insufficient because a rental car company has no duty to ensure that its renters maintain insurance and the plaintiff’s injuries were not proximately caused by EAN Holdings’ alleged failure to ensure that a renter failed to maintain liability insurance coverage.


I. PERTINENT ALLEGATIONS

The plaintiff’s complaint is dated February 18, 2021 and seeks uninsured motorist benefits for injuries resulting from a September 3, 2020 accident. Plaintiff alleges he was operating his motor vehicle on I-91 northbound, in Hartford, when he was rear-ended by uninsured vehicle driven by Elvin Savage. By apportionment complaint dated July 15, 2021, Progressive made claims against the uninsured tortfeasor, Savage, his employer, CAS Trucking, LLC, and EAN Holdings, LLC, which allegedly rented the vehicle operated by Savage at [*2]  the time of the accident to CAS Trucking, LLC.

Count Three of the apportionment complaint is directed to EAN Holdings as the owner and lessor of the truck that Savage was driving at the time of the accident. It alleges that EAN Holdings rented the vehicle to CAS Trucking, LLC. Progressive claims that, in leasing the vehicle, EAN Holdings was “independently negligent” for failing to ascertain whether CAS Trucking, LLC had liability insurance coverage, allowing its truck to be leased and driven on Connecticut roadways without insurance, failing to warn CAS Trucking, LLC of the risks of driving without insurance, failing to provide liability coverage to CAS Trucking, LLC, and failing to enforce the terms of its rental agreement. Count Four of the plaintiff’s amended complaint dated October 15, 2021, is brought against EAN Holdings and incorporates the factual allegations of Count Three of Progressive’s apportionment complaint.


II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

“The purpose of a motion to strike is to contest … the legal sufficiency of the allegations of any complaint … to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC. v. Alves, 262 Conn. 480, 498, 815 A.2d 1188 (2003) “It is fundamental that in determining [*3]  the sufficiency of a complaint challenged by a defendant’s motion to strike, all well-pleaded facts and those facts necessarily implied from the allegations are taken as admitted.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Coe v. Board of Education, 301 Conn, 112, 116-17, 19 A.3d 640 (2011). “A motion to strike … does not admit legal conclusions or the truth or accuracy of opinions stated in the pleadings.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Faulkner v. United Technologies Corp., 240 Conn. 576, 588, 693 A.2d 293 (1997). “[P]leadings must be construed broadly and realistically, rather than narrowly and technically.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc. v. Rell, 295 Conn. 240, 253, 990 A.2d 206 (2010). “If any facts provable under the express and implied allegations in the plaintiffs complaint support a cause of action … the complaint is not vulnerable to a motion to strike.” Bouchard v. People’s Bank, 219 Conn. 465, 471, 594 A.2d 1 (1991). “A motion to strike is properly granted if the complaint alleges mere conclusions of law that are unsupported by the facts alleged.” (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Fort Trumbull Conservancy, LLC v. Alves, supra, 498.


III. ANALYSIS

EAN Holdings argues that Progressive’s apportionment claim is legally insufficient because, as a rental car company it has no legal duty to provide insurance coverage to its renters and no obligation to ensure that its renters maintain minimum state liability insurance requirements. EAN Holdings supports its argument with [*4]  several Superior Court decisions (i.e, Escaleria v. Powell, Superior Court, judicial district of Fairfield, Docket No. CV 06 5004566 (November 6, 2007, Matasavage, J.) (44 Conn. L. Rptr. 468, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2956); Angione v. Bloom, Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk at Stamford, Docket No. CV 08 5006850, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2632 (October 6, 2011, Jennings, J.T.R.); and Bertocki v. Williams, Superior Court, judicial district of New London, Docket No. CV 09 6000929, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2112 (August 16, 2010, Devine, J.)) that fully explore the absence of this duty as a matter of law.

In opposition, Progressive distinguishes those cases by arguing that the present case involves a commercial vehicle where the rental agreement contains language requiring the lessor to provide insurance coverage. Progressive claims that EAN Holdings was negligent in not enforcing the insurance provisions its rental agreement with CAS Trucking LLC, citing Meyers v. Livingston, Adler, Pulda, Meiklejohn & Kelly, P.C., 311 Conn. 282, 292, 87 A.3d 534 (2014), Neiditz v. Morton S. Fine & Associates, Inc., 199 Conn. 683, 688, 508 A.2d 438 (1986) and Johnson v. Flammia, 169 Conn. 491, 496, 363 A.2d 1048 (1975) for the proposition that such conduct “can form the basis for negligence.” The court does not agree.

While Meyers and Neiditz recognize that an independent claim of tortious conduct may arise “in the context of a contractual relationship” that tort liability is between the parties to the contract. The terms of the [*5]  contract do not establish a duty flowing to strangers to that agreement such that cause of action arises in negligence for a breach of that duty.

Moreover, the court is bound by the allegations of the pleadings. The apportionment complaint is somewhat vague as to the exact nature of the contractual provision in question. Specifically, Paragraph 21(e) of the apportionment complaint alleges:

(e) [EAN Holdings] failed to enforce the terms of its rental agreement by ensuring that a vehicle used for the transport of product as a common carrier, contract carrier, or private carrier of property in the State of Connecticut carried bodily injury and property damage liability insurance required by a motor carrier in the State of Connecticut.

The apportionment complaint appears to allege that the agreement obligates the lessee to comply with insurance requirements set by the State of Connecticut for a motor carrier. The savings clause of the Graves Amendment clarifies that the federal law does not supersede state laws that impose “financial responsibility or insurance standards on the owner of a motor vehicle for the privilege of registering and operating a motor vehicle” or that impose “liability [*6]  on business entities engaged in the trade or business of renting or leasing motor vehicles for failure to meet the financial responsibility or liability insurance requirements under State law.” 49 U.S.C. § 30106(b).

While Connecticut’s statutory requirements for minimum insurance for motor carriers are not superseded under the Graves Amendment, their existence in no way undercuts the Graves Amendment’s absolute exemption of commercial renters and lessors of motor vehicles from liability for damages caused solely by the negligence of those who rent or lease from them. The failure to enforce a contractual provision obligating the lessor to meet minimum insurance requirements does not constitute “negligence on the part of the owner” sufficient to avoid the pre-emptive effect of 49 U.S.C. § 30106(a).

In addition, the court finds persuasive the reasoning advanced by Judge Matasavage in Escaleria v. Powell, No. CV065004566S, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2956, 2007 WL 4210982 regarding the lack of proximate cause. The plaintiff’s motor vehicle collision and the resulting injuries and damages were caused, if at all, by the negligent operation of a third party (Elvin Savage), and not by EAN Holding’s alleged failure to ensure that CAS Trucking, LLC had insurance coverage. There must be a causal relation between the act [*7]  of negligence and the injury in whole or in part, in order for an action based in negligence to be legally sufficient. Right v. Breen, 277 Conn. 364, 372, 890 A.2d 1287 (2006).


IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated, the apportionment defendant/defendant EAN Holdings, LLC’s motion to strike is granted. Count Three of the apportionment complaint brought by defendant Progressive Direct Ins. Co. is stricken. Count Four of the plaintiff’s amended complaint is also stricken.

BY THE COURT,

/s/ Sheridan

Sheridan, J.


End of Document

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