Ohio Court of Appeals Agrees that Defendant in Car Accident Subrogation Case Should be Granted Relief from Default Judgment

Timeliness can be  very important in any  lawsuit. In a Cleveland car  accident or truck  accident case, failure to follow  the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure and the Ohio Revised Code  with regard to filing deadlines, submission of pleadings, briefs and other documents  can lead to  a harsh result in court.

In some situations, it may be possible to have a trial court’s judgment based on a procedural ruling set aside, but this is the exception rather than the rule. The best course of action is to speak to a qualified attorney early so that you can understand your legal rights and avoid the potential pitfalls of the litigation process.

Facts of the Case

When an insurance company pays its policy holder for damages he or she suffered as a result of an accident caused by someone else, the insurance company often has the right to recover from the wrongdoer, or tortfeasor, as she is known, the amount that it paid to its insured. This is known as subrogation. The plaintiff in a recent  case was an insurance company that filed suit against the defendant motorist, asserting its subrogation rights and claiming that the motorist had to reimburse the insurance company for monies it had paid out to its insured on account of an accident allegedly caused when defendant negligently crossed the center line and struck the insured’s vehicle. According to the insurance company, its insured was seriously injured in the crash and suffered some $262,555 in damages.

The plaintiff’s complaint was filed in September 2016. In March 2017, after the defendant driver had not timely responded to the suit, the trial court granted the insurance company’s motion for a default judgment. In September 2017, the defendant filed a motion seeking relief from the default judgment under Ohio Rule of Civil Procedure 60(B), claiming that his failure to respond was a result of excusable neglect. According to the defendant, he was a mechanic and was test driving a vehicle for his employer  when the steering “suddenly and unexpectedly locked up,” causing the accident. The driver further claimed that he had given the plaintiff’s complaint to someone at his place of employment and that he had been told that the matter would be taken care of, which he understood to mean that the claim would be forwarded to his employer’s liability insurer. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the insurance company  plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals for the 12th Appellate District of Ohio affirmed the lower court’s decision reversing summary judgment.. In order to prevail on a R. 60(b) motion for relief from judgment such as the one at bar, the moving party must show that he or she has a meritorious defense or claim to present if relief from judgment is granted, that the moving party’s mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect resulted in the judgment from which relief is sought, and that the moving party sought relief from the judgment within one year.

According to the appellate court, the defendant had set forth operative facts that permitted the trial court to determine that the defendant could reasonably argue  that he was not at fault in causing the accident because he had been presented with a sudden emergency that was not of his own making. For purposes of his motion, the defendant driver  did not have to prove that he would succeed on this issue at trial, only that there were facts sufficient for him to present the defense to the jury at the appropriate time.

Experienced Cleveland Car Accident Attorneys

The experienced personal injury attorneys at Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A., handle many types of Cleveland automobile accident cases. For a free consultation, call us at 216-696-4006.

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