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Court Rules that Attorney Headed to Work Was Not Working
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A law firm auto insurance policy did not cover an attorney who was involved in an accident on the way to work, a Virginia court has ruled.

Summary: A Virginia court has ruled that a law firm auto insurance policy will not cover an attorney’s accident because his travels did not rise to the threshold of “working.”

Virginia’s highest court has ruled that, although an attorney was thinking about work as he traveled to his office, he was not “working” as defined by firm’s automobile insurance policy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

  
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H. Christopher Bartolomucci, a former partner at Hogan Lovells, was involved in a car accident on his way to work. The accident injured another driver, who sued Bartolomucci for $1 million in damages.

Bartolomucci’s liability coverage through his car insurance was capped at $100,000 in damages. Since he would potentially be responsible for the difference in damages, Bartolomucci tried to argue that his vehicle was covered by the firm’s insurance policy.

Some states allow drivers to provide electronic proof of insurance coverage.

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The issue became whether, at the time of the accident, Bartolomucci’s use of his car related to Hogan Lovells’ business or to his own “personal affairs.” “Personal affairs” is defined as “non-income producing activities that benefit the business.”



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Bartolomucci argued that his commute to work was “more than a typical commute” in that it “was actually ‘in’ Hogan Lovells’ business.” Bartolomucci additionally argued that, since he works from a home office as well, he was traveling between work locations, instead of simply commuting.

Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr., the judge who penned the opinion of the court, wrote, “[A]lthough Bartolomucci could not recall what he was thinking at the time of the collision, Bartolomucci testified that he habitually thought about work related issues on his commute to work.”

A former Department of Justice attorney joined Hogan Lovells in the fall.

The court was not persuaded that Bartolomucci’s use of his vehicle related to the business of the firm, although a jury in a lower court had found that it did. In overruling the jury’s decision, Millette wrote:

“The only work related activity that Bartolomucci accomplished before leaving home was to check his work email and call his office voicemail. But the record does not indicate that Bartolomucci read or responded to any work related emails, that the voicemail itself was work related, or that Bartolomucci billed his time for these activities. In addition, beyond the fact that Bartolomucci occasionally worked at home, the record fails to show any relationship between Hogan Lovells and Bartolomucci’s home to establish that place as a Hogan Lovells work location….

And merely thinking about work does not make a commute “in” the business, as contemplated by the policy language. The record does not indicate that Bartolomucci billed for any activity or otherwise performed any work during his commute. Also, Bartolomucci was not reimbursed by Hogan Lovells for his commute.”

According to ABA Journal, the court also found that, although Bartolomucci’s Blackberry was within reach during the commute, simply having access to technology did not transform the drive into company business.

A law student won a scholarship for describing her experience with a dishonest attorney and a devastating car accident.

Bartolomucci, who now works as a partner at Bancroft PLLC , said that he was “disappointed that the jury’s verdict did not prevail but I respect the court’s decision.”

Randy Maniloff, an insurance attorney who writes legal commentary for Coverage Opinions, was not surprised at the court’s ruling. “If these various arguments made by the lawyer were accepted, it would fundamentally alter how a business auto policy is intended to operate. When it comes to insurance overage arguments, necessity has forever been the mother of intention.”

Bartolomucci (L), Maniloff (R)

Bartolomucci (L), Maniloff (R)

Source: Wall Street Journal

Photo credit: fcihealth.com



 

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