USAA obtains Zero Judgment on alleged vehicle theft claim

USAA obtains Zero Judgment on alleged vehicle theft claim
(April 2010)

Peter Wanek won a defense judgment and dismissal of plaintiff’s case following a bench trial in the 24th Judicial District Court for Jefferson Parish. Plaintiff, Cha-Ron Clark filed suit against USAA Casualty Insurance Company alleging USAA was arbitrary and capricious in its refusal to pay her claim for the alleged theft of her 2006 BMW 325i from her apartment complex. Plaintiff offered conflicting times regarding the last time she had operated the car, as well as conflicting stories regarding the number of keys she possessed to the car, initially suggesting, and later affirming in three recorded statements that she only had two keys to the car. Plaintiff forwarded the two keys to USAA, which were later scanned and revealed that the time plaintiff claimed she had last driven the car significantly conflicted with the times the car had been driven last. Ultimately, the car was recovered completely burned and there was no evidence to suggest that anything had been taken from the car. After USAA denied plaintiff’s theft claim, she changed her story, insisting that she had three keys to the car, and the third or spare key was missing or must have been stolen from her apartment.

Prior to trial, USAA was successful in obtaining a partial summary judgment dismissing plaintiff’s bad faith and mental anguish claims. At trial, USAA offered unrebutted expert testimony from a BMW master technician who testified that it was highly improbable and nearly impossible to steal the model type of plaintiff’s BMW without the use of a key. The expert also disputed plaintiff’s description of the spare key for the car. USAA additionally offered extensive evidence of plaintiff’s financial history, which demonstrated a potential motive for plaintiff to dispose of the car. In ruling in favor of USAA, the court determined that plaintiff failed to meet her burden that her claim qualified as a compensable loss under the insurance policy. Other than the plaintiff’s own testimony that the car was missing, the court held that plaintiff offered no evidence of a theft, and when considering the expert’s testimony that the car could not be stolen without a key, no evidence presented by plaintiff lead to the conclusion that a theft had occurred.