Metropolitan Cas. Ins. Co. v. Shaid
(Sup. Ct., Queens Co., decided 5/21/2009)
On June 8, 2006, a vehicle operated by the underlying plaintiff Justin Marvisi collided with a vehicle insured by Metropolitan operated by Arshad and owned by Shaid. In initially reporting the accident, Shaid advised Metropolitan that he did not know the identity of the person who was driving his vehicle at the time of the accident and that he had dropped off his vehicle at a service station with the keys inside it. It was not until 2008 that Shaid acknowledged that he knew Arshad, the driver, and had given him permission to use the vehicle for personal and non-business related reasons. Both Shaid and Arshad provided recorded statements to an investigator for Metropolitan.
In October 2006, Metropolitan denied liability coverage to Shaid and Arshad based on the policy's exclusion for use of the insured auto in an “auto business.” Marvisi brought a personal injury action against Shaid and Arshad and obtained a default judgment against them. Metropolitan then commenced this action, seeking a declaratory judgment declaring that Shaid and Arshad had breached the policy's cooperation clause.
Metropolitan moved for summary judgment based on the contents of recorded statements obtained from Shaid and Arshad. Queens County Supreme Court Justice Bernice Siegel initially agreed that:
In spite of these legal principles, however, the court denied Metropolitan's motion for summary judgment, finding that the recorded statements Shaid and Arshad gave to Metropolitan's investigator were not business records that qualified as admissible under the business records exception to the hearsay rule:[t]he law is well settled that an insured who falsely informs his insurer as to who was driving the insured vehicle at the time of the accident breaches the cooperation clause of the insurance policy. (Geico v. Fisher, 54 AD2d 1087 [4th Dept 1976].)In this matter, the insurer contends that Shaid knew who was driving his vehicle at the time of the accident and for what purpose, but intentionally misrepresented those facts to Metropolitan.
An insured breaches the condition of cooperation and seriously prejudices the insurer in handling the claims and lawsuits arising out of the accident when making false statements concerning the facts of an accident. (see State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co. v. Brown, 21 AD2d 742 [4th Dept. 2004].) However, even through the insurer may be prejudiced by the lack of cooperation “[t]he lack of prejudice to the insurer is immaterial when there has been a breach of a condition.” (National Grange Mutual Liab. Co. v. Fino, 13 AD2d 10 [3d Dept 1961].)
Contrast this decision with Tower Ins. Co. v. Rajaram (Sup.Ct., NY Co., 2008) and Tower Ins. Co. v. Kravtchouk (Sup.Ct., NY Co., 2008) in which New York County Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower found signed statements of the insureds to be admissible as evidence on Tower's motions for summary judgment in those cases. In rejecting the defendants' argument that their signed statements were inadmissible hearsay, Justice Rakower ruled: "While hearsay, admissions by a party of any fact material to the issue are always competent evidence against that party."Hearsay is a statement made out of court offered for the truth of the fact asserted in the statement. (People v. Romero, 78 NY2d 355 .) A hearsay statement may be received in evidence only if it falls within one of the recognized exceptions to the hearsay rule, and then only if the proponent demonstrates that the evidence is reliable. (Nucci v. Proper, 95 NY2d 597 .)
Plaintiff contends that the statements fall under the business records exception to the hearsay rule. For the purposes of determining whether hearsay is admissible under business records exception, the concern relating to trustworthiness extends to “each participant in the chain producing the business record, from the initial declarant to the final entrant.” (Matter of Leon RR, 48 NY2d 117 .)
The Court of Appeals has ruled that “the statement is inadmissible hearsay if any of the participants in the chain is acting outside the scope of the business duty.” Id. at 122. It is undisputed that the insured was outside the insurers enterprise at the time of the statement.
At issue though, is whether the duty of an insured to cooperate with an insurer is comparable to a business duty during an insurance investigation. (Hochhauser v. Electric Insurance Co., 46 AD3d 174 [2d Dept 2007].) However, “despite potential consequences which may befall an insured who fails to provide accurate and truthful information to, or to cooperate with, an insurer, the insured’s statement to the insurance investigator ... was not made under the circumstances which create a high probability that the statement was truthful.” (Corsi v. Town of Bedford, 58 AD3d 225, 231 [2d Dept 2008], quoting Hochhauser v. Electric Insurance Co., 46 AD3d at 1823.)
The essence of the business records exception to the hearsay rule is that records systematically made for the conduct of business are inherently highly trustworthy because (1) the records are routine reflections of the day to day operations of a business; (2) the entrant is obliged to be truthful and accurate for purposes of conducting the enterprise. (Hochhauser v. Electric Insurance Co., 46 AD3d 174 [2d Dept 2007].)
Here, the insured was outside of the insurer’s enterprise and was not communicating information regarding the accident under the compulsion of any business duty. (see generally, Matter of Leon RR , 48 NY2d 117 .) Accordingly, the statements made by Shaid and Arshad to the insurance investigator do not constitute a business record. Without the benefit of the business record exception, the plaintiffs statements to the investigator are simply impermissible hearsay.
Did Metropolitan also argue that Shaid's and Arshad's recorded statements constituted party admissions and, thus, were admissible under a separate exception to the hearsay rule? Once the declaratory judgment action was pending, couldn't Metropolitan also have converted the recorded statements into evidentiary form by attaching transcripts to a notice to admit or marking and using the transcripts during party depositions of Shaid and Arshad? This decision does not indicate in what form and under whose sponsoring affidavit the recorded statements were submitted in support of Metropolitan's motion.