Court of Appeal: Insurer can avoid payout in fatal 2011 crash

The scene of the Nov. 30, 2011 crash that killed Richard Martin, a St. Matthew’s University student. – Photo: Brent Fuller

A vehicle owner’s previous traffic charges, which were not disclosed to her insurance company, permitted the insurer to avoid any right of recovery of funds in connection with a deadly 2011 crash on the Esterley Tibbetts Highway, the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal has ruled.

The court’s decision, released last week, involves the death of a Pennsylvania man – Richard Martin – in a Nov. 30, 2011 crash and any “vicarious liabilities” arising from that accident. Mr. Martin was studying at Cayman’s St. Matthew’s University at the time.

A lawsuit filed in 2012 by the Pennsylvania man’s widow claimed that both the vehicle driver, Patrick Brooks-Dixon, and the vehicle owner, Victoria Jane Banks, should be assessed some liability in connection with the fatal crash. Brooks-Dixon was sentenced to prison in connection with the wreck. Ms. Banks, who was never accused of any criminal wrongdoing, was nonetheless accused in the civil suit of being “vicariously liable” due to the fact that Brooks-Dixon was driving her SUV when the deadly accident occurred.

The trial court found Ms. Banks had an active insurance policy in place at the time of the wreck with the Insurance Company of the West Indies. However, the trial judge, Robin McMillan, found that ICWI was “entitled to avoid the policy” on the ground that Ms. Banks had not reported having been charged with numerous traffic offenses in 2010.

She was convicted of those offenses in 2013, according to the court records, which were separate from the Nov. 30, 2011 fatal crash.

Ms. Banks appealed the trial court’s ruling to the Court of Appeal, which dismissed the matter in November 2016, upholding the decision of the trial judge.

Writing the unanimous judgment of the court, Justice Dennis Morrison noted that Ms. Banks’s attorneys had argued her insurance policy should have covered the 2011 fatal accident, since the she was not convicted of her various traffic offenses until 2013.

“This is an untenable argument,” Mr. Justice Morrison wrote. “[Justice McMillan] was entirely correct in his decision that ICWI was entitled to avoid the policy on the ground of the appellant’s non-disclosure of the pending motoring charges.

“There was no unconscionable conduct or want of good faith by ICWI,” Justice Morrison wrote.

Brooks-Dixon pleaded guilty to causing death by dangerous driving in May 2102 and was sentenced to three years in prison.

About six months later, Mr. Martin’s widow, Susan Yee, listed several claims made as a result of the fatal accident.

For instance, the lawsuit claimed that Mr. Martin’s salary as an employee of Ms. Yee’s company, Active Data, would have been about US$196,000 per year. Child care he provided for his daughter Zoe and 15-year-old Kayla Yee, who the lawsuit states “treated [Mr. Martin] as her father,” about 25 hours per week – would cost about US$58,000 per year.

Funeral costs for Mr. Martin were listed at more than US$83,000; the value of his Honda that was destroyed in the crash was listed at around US$5,600 and a Tag Heuer watch destroyed in the car crash was valued at US$2,500.

“[Mr. Martin] was a loving a dedicated husband and father,” the lawsuit states. “In 2011, [Mr. Martin] enrolled at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine to train to obtain a medical qualification to, among other things, develop [Ms. Yee’s] business further and provide an alternative source of income for their family.”

It’s not known if any of these claims were able to be collected. Attempts to reach Ms. Yee in Pennsylvania Friday were unsuccessful.

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