Lawyer learns driving home from the office doesn’t count as a business trip
Ahhh, given all the feudin’ between insurers and them (“them” being personal injury lawyers), it can be nice when the gods smile and the big, fat pigeon of legend looms over the newly waxed sports car.
Take the recent decision of the Virginia Supreme Court on Bartolomucci v. Federal Insurance. As it happens, Christopher Bartolomucci is a lawyer who specializes in complex litigation, and he must be pretty good, since they didn’t just let anyone be Associate Counsel to the U.S. President in 2001 and 2002. Bartolomucci caused a traffic accident and injured the other driver. But his personal auto policy had limits of $100,000, and the injured party sued him for $1 million. So a partner at the law firm where Bartolomucci worked at the time tried to have the company’s Federal Insurance policy cover the rest of his liability.
Problem: that policy covered him only when his vehicle was being used in the law firm’s business or “non-income producing activities that benefit the business.”
Bartolomucci and Vo Vu, the person he injured, jointly appealed, but the court decided driving home wasn’t a “use in” the firm’s business or private affairs.
Bartolomucci then argued he was actually traveling between work locations because he handled company business at home “quite a lot.” And what about the Blackberry he kept turned on, easily within reach? And he “habitually thought about work-related issues” during his commute to work.
Unfortunately, he couldn’t recall what he was thinking when his car had its collision.
The court couldn’t have rejected all this more harshly unless they had a big game show buzzer. The events of the day, it decided, “do not amount to anything more than a typical commute from home to work, which was not covered…” Bartolomucci only checked his email and voice messages before leaving that day and never answered any of them. And merely having access to the Blackberry that he never used “does not transform” an employee’s “private activity into company business.”
And perhaps the biggest sin of all for a lawyer, Bartolomucci didn’t bill for any activity during his commute—and his firm didn’t reimburse him for his travel, either.
Alan Prochoroff is the Editor of Insurance Compliance Insight, where these two articles first appeared.
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the June / July 2015 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine