Driving Mr. Bartolomucci

In a case brought to the Virginia Supreme Court, an auto insurance dispute came down to the issue of if the driver was working while driving.

H. Christopher Bartolomucci, an appellate litigator and former partner at Hogan Lovells, was involved in a car accident that injured the other driver, who in turn sued Bartolomucci for $1 million. Because Bartolomucci’s liability coverage was capped at $100,000, he tried to establish that his car was covered by his firm’s insurance policy, according to The Wall Street Journal.

But was he using the car for Hogan Lovells business, or for personal affairs? According to the court, “personal affairs” are defined as “nonincome producing activities that benefit the business.” The court ruled he was doing the latter.

Because Bartolomucci works both at home and in the Hogan Lovells office, however, he claims his drive between the two wasn’t commuting, but counts as travel between work locations, according to the Journal blog.

“Although 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,” said Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr., the author of the ruling.

When I first read this, I thought, "Well, of course he wasn’t working!" Simply thinking about work while not on company business wouldn’t mean the company’s insurance should cover him. But he claimed to be between work places. So I did a little search on the subject.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company’s website says, “If you have employees and they use their vehicles for business use, be certain they have sufficient liability coverage with their personal auto policies. For example, if an employee drives his or her own car to make a bank deposit for the business and is in an accident with another driver, his or her insurance company will pay the claim up to her policy limit.”

Therefore, even if he were to be doing company business, his own insurance would cover the damages to his vehicle.

The Journal reported that Randy Maniloff, an insurance lawyer and legal commentator at Coverage Opinions, said that a ruling in favor of Bartolomucci would have surprised him.

“If these various arguments made by the lawyer were accepted, it would fundamentally alter how a business auto policy is intended to operate,” he said. “When it comes to insurance coverage arguments, necessity has forever been the mother of invention.”

Nice try, though, Mr. Bartolomucci.