Trucker denied $2.6 million insurance lawsuit after other party flees country
July 15, 2020
A trucker who was injured in a crash with another trucker cannot collect his nearly $3 million lawsuit judgment from the insurance company after the other involved party fled the country, a federal appeals court ruled.
On June 23, a Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals panel affirmed a lower court’s decision to deny Zef Ljajcaj a $2.6 million award stemming from a crash lawsuit. National Continental Insurance Co. argued the trucker, Nurbek Aiazbekov, breached their contract by fleeing the country. Therefore, it is not obligated to pay out the judgment. Both the district and appeals court agreed.
The lawsuit derives from a crash that occurred on Oct. 19, 2016, at about 2 a.m. At the time, 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.
Just one week after the Sixth Circuit published its opinion, Ljajcaj filed a petition for a panel rehearing or rehearing en banc, i.e., the full Sixth Circuit. As of publication, the court has not responded to the petition.