Back to the Future has always been my favorite movie. While I was watching it recently, an interesting auto insurance issue came up.
Modern-day (that is, 1985) Biff Tannen, played ably by Thomas F. Wilson, is George McFly’s supervisor at work. George, as everyone knows, is the father of our hero, Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox). Unfortunately for Marty, early in the movie and right before his big weekend at the lake with Jennifer, Biff wrecks George’s car.
As Marty enters his home, Biff and George are having a heated exchange concerning the accident. Biff insists the car had a blind spot. George doesn’t remember any blind spot but assumes that Biff’s insurance will pay for the damages. Biff points out, “It’s your car! Your insurance should pay for it.” Then Biff asserts that George should also pay his dry-cleaning bill because he spilled beer all over himself when that other car ran into him.
So I thought to myself, “That Biff. He is obviously drinking and driving; he could have really hurt someone. What if he had?”
In cases like this in Minnesota, George would probably be upset to find out that Biff is right. George is legally responsible for Biff’s negligence. If Biff would have hurt someone that fateful evening, George’s insurance would not only pay the injured person compensation before Biff’s insurance pays, but George would also be a likely defendant if Biff were ever sued.
Under Minnesota law, auto insurance covers both cars and people. The insurance you buy is available to protect you when you drive your own car as well as when you drive other cars with permission. That way you don’t have to tell your insurance agent about it each time you use someone else’s car or let someone use your car. So when someone borrows a car, a situation like this one with George and Biff arises, in that there are at least two policies covering the event.
So which one pays first to an injured person? Minnesota law says that the insurance on the car is deemed “closest to the risk” so that will be the primary insurance, while any insurance carried by the driver will be available as excess coverage. Biff would be a “permissive user” insured under George’s policy. If the injured person has a claim larger than George’s policy, Biff’s policy would be in place as excess insurance. If the injured person had proper Underinsured Motorist insurance (UIM) in place on their car, that policy would come in last, after Biff’s policy, to provide yet another layer of insurance.
The levels of insurance coverage are in place not only compensate injured people and to protect Biff, but also to protect George, the car’s owner, from vicarious liability. Vicarious liability imputes the negligence of a borrower to the owner by statute. Under Minn. Stat. 170.54, when George allowed Biff to drive, Biff became George’s agent making George legally responsible for Biff’s actions. So if Biff were uninsured, George could be held responsible for all of the damage. If Biff did enough harm, George could be personally liable for an innocent person’s injuries even though he was miles away from the accident.
The moral of the story for George is that he should know better than to let Biff drive his car, even if Biff happens to be his supervisor and George isn’t very good at confrontations. In light of Biff’s propensities to drink and drive, chase down skateboarders in the middle of the street and run into manure trucks, Biff is likely to get George mixed up in a big mess.
When you or someone you know is injured in a car crash, it is important to sort out the ownership and insurance issues before settling a claim. Make sure you speak to an experienced attorney regarding insurance coverage for your case.