Damages Caused by a Community Property Vehicle
Property a spouse brings to a marriage remains his or her separate property. However, the spouses can agree to convert the property to community property. It can also be converted to community property by gift. In Sellers v. Allstate Ins. Co., 555 P.2d 1113 (1976) the Arizona Supreme Court discussed these issues in the context of an insurance issue.
Facts and Procedure
Two months after Mr. Collison and Mrs. Collison married, they were in an automobile accident with Mr. Sellers and Mrs. Sellers and their minor children. Mr. Collison was driving a 1957 Cadillac which he owned before marriage. He was on his way to the Lowboy Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona to have a beer and cash a check. He then planned to pick up his wife at her place of work and drive her home.
Mrs. Collison owned a 1964 Chrysler automobile, insured by Allstate Insurance Company. She usually drove herself to work and back in it. The day of the accident, it was in a garage undergoing repairs. The Sellers sued for damages. They won a judgment. They claimed that Mrs. Collison’s Allstate insurance policy covered Mr. Collison and his Cadillac at the time the accident happened. They had a writ of garnishment served on Allstate. Allstate denied any liability.
The court granted Allstate a summary judgment. The Sellers appealed.
The Allstate Policy
The Sellers argue that Mr. Collison’s car was covered as a “replacement automobile” under the Allstate policy. The policy defines the relevant terms:
“named insured’ means the individual named on the Supplement Page, and his spouse if a resident of the same household; * * * `owned automobile’ means the vehicle described on the Supplement Page, and, as defined herein, any replacement automobile, any additional automobile, any temporary substitute automobile, * * * owned by the named insured; `replacement automobile’ means any other private passenger or utility automobile of which the named insured acquires ownership, provided it replaces the owned automobile; `additional automobile’ means an additional private passenger or utility automobile of which the named insured acquires ownership, provided notice of its delivery be given to Allstate within the policy term then current, or if delivery is within 30 days before the end of such term, then within 30 days after delivery; `temporary substitute automobile’ means any automobile, including a trailer, while temporarily used as a substitute for the owned automobile or trailer when withdrawn from normal use because of its breakdown, repair, servicing, loss or destruction; * * *”
From this, it is clear that the policy covered Mr. Collison while he was driving her Chrysler or any replacement automobile.
Substitute Vehicle Clause
The Sellers first argue that the Cadillac was a car temporarily substituted for Mrs. Collison’s Chrysler. The policy extends coverage temporarily to an insured using an alternate vehicle because the regular car was being repaired.
An alternate automobile is one temporarily used in place of the insured car. In the present case, Mrs. Collison usually drove to and from work in the Chrysler car. The accident occurred on Tuesday. If Mr. Collison drove Mrs. Collison home in his Cadillac after work, it would have been a substitute for her Chrysler. It would have furnished her transportation. But Mr. Collison had driven to the Lowboy Lounge. He was using the Cadillac for his convenience.
Since Mr. Collison usually drove the Cadillac, he was not using it as a substitute for Mrs. Collison’s Chrysler on this part of his trip.
Additional Automobile Clause
The Sellers next argue that the policy covers the Cadillac as an “additional automobile.” They claim that Mrs. Collison acquired an ownership interest in the Cadillac vehicle under Arizona’s community property laws.
In Arizona, the status of the property as community or separate is established at the time of marriage. Assets which are the separate property of one spouse before the marriage retain that character after the marriage. However, this can be altered by agreement between the spouses, or by a gift of one to the other.
Mr. Collison testified that he considered the Cadillac to belong to both himself and Evelyn after the marriage. Mrs. Collison testified that the couple invested some $400 of community property in repairs to the Chrysler. The Court ruled that there was a factual question as to whether Mr. Collison’s Cadillac stayed separate goods or became community property. A motion for summary judgment does not resolve factual issues. Since a genuine issue was raised, the Court found that it was an error for the lower court to grant summary judgment to Allstate.
The Court of Appeals reversed the judgment below.
Chris Hildebrand wrote this article to ensure everyone has access to information about family law in Arizona. Chris is a divorce and family law attorney at Hildebrand Law, PC. He has over 24 years of Arizona family law experience and has received multiple awards, including US News and World Report “Top Arizona Divorce Attorneys”, Phoenix Magazine “Top Divorce Law Firms”, and Arizona Foothills Magazine “Best of the Valley” award. He believes the policies and procedures he uses to get his clients through a divorce should all be guided by the principles of honesty, integrity, and, quite frankly, actually caring about what his clients are going through in a divorce or family law case. In short, his practice is defined by the success of his clients. He also manages all of the other attorneys at his firm to make sure the outcomes in their clients’ cases are successful as well.
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