Appeals court denies rehearing in case of fleeing trucker
July 30, 2020
A federal appeals court denied a trucker’s request for rehearing after he lost out on a nearly $3 million lawsuit judgment upon a lower court’s ruling that National Continental Insurance is not responsible for its missing client.
On July 22, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Zef Ljajcaj’s motion for a rehearing. On June 23, an appeals panel affirmed a district court’s ruling denying Ljajcaj a $2.6 million award in a crash lawsuit. The defendant, also a trucker, fled the country, effectively voiding the insurance policy.
On Oct. 19, 2016, at about 2 a.m., Ljajcaj was driving his tractor-trailer across the Indiana border into Michigan in the middle lane of Interstate 94. Aiazbekov was hauling watermelons in his truck when he attempted to merge onto the interstate from a welcome center. However, Aiazbekov’s truck jackknifed into the middle lane, causing Ljajcaj to strike the back of the trailer.
Ljajcaj suffered head, back and shoulder injuries that required multiple surgeries and caused lasting physical and mental harms, according to the lawsuit. Subsequently, he filed a lawsuit in a Michigan state court against Aiazbekov and the company he drove for, Illinois-based Road Carriers, in July 2017.
During litigation, insurance company National Continental paid for separate counsel to represent both Road Carriers and Aiazbekov. However, Aiazbekov suddenly disappeared by January 2018, according to the appellate opinion. After hiring a private investigator, attorneys discovered the man had fled to “Asia or Russia,” court documents reveal. National Continental attorneys withdrew from the case in May 2018.
Just a few weeks after attorneys withdrew from the case, Ljajcaj agreed to a $500,000 settlement with Road Carriers, or half of the $1 million National Continental insurance policy coverage.
However, the settlement agreement did not release claims against Aiazbekov. Consequently, Ljajcaj received a $2.6 million default judgment against Aiazbekov.
Several weeks before Ljajcaj sought a default judgment, National Continental filed a lawsuit in federal court against all three parties: Aiazbekov, Ljajcaj and Road Carriers. The lawsuit claimed that the insurance company was not obligated to defend or indemnify Aiazbekov in the state court case.
According to court documents, the insurance policy states National Continental “has no duty to provide coverage under this policy unless there has been full compliance” with certain duties in the event of a lawsuit – including a duty to “cooperate with (National Continental) in the investigation or settlement of the claim or defense against the ‘suit.’” By fleeing the country, the insurance company claims Aiazbekov breached the contract by not cooperating in the defense.
The district court determined that Aiazbekov breached the insurance policy’s cooperation provision because he did not cooperate even after National Continental took reasonable steps to locate him. Additionally, the court found that Aiazbekov’s failure to cooperate compromised National Continental’s defense. Therefore, the court held that National Continental has no obligation to indemnify Aiazbekov for Ljajcaj’s judgment against him. The appellate court agreed, with one judge dissenting.
Responding to the rehearing petition, the court stated that the original panel found that the issues raised in the petition were fully considered during the initial appeal. No judge in the full court requested a rehearing en banc. However, the court did acknowledge that the one dissenting judge on the panel would grant rehearing for the reasons stated in the dissent.
From here, Ljajcaj is left with two options: petition to the U.S. Supreme Court or accept the decisions of both the appellate and district courts.