A person who was injured in a car accident with an insured party and who had filed suit against the insured party was an indispensable party in a declaratory judgment action between the insured and his insurer regarding coverage of the accident.
In Tennessee Farmers Mutual Insurance Company v. DeBruce, No. E2017-02078-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2018), plaintiff was injured in a car accident with defendant and filed a personal injury claim against defendant. Plaintiff’s counsel notified defendant’s insurance company of the pending lawsuit in January 2015, but defendant never notified the insurer that the lawsuit was filed. In March 2015, the insurer filed a declaratory judgment action against defendant, asserting that his failure to inform them of the claim and cooperate in an investigation amounted to a breach of his policy. Insurer sought a declaratory judgment that “it was no longer required to defend or indemnify defendant in [plaintiff’s] lawsuit against him because of his breach of the policy’s requirements.”
Defendant never responded to the declaratory judgment complaint, and a default judgment was entered in June 2015. In March 2017, plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the declaratory judgment on the basis that “she was an indispensable party to the declaratory judgment action because she had a direct interest in its outcome, as the judgment leaves [defendant] without the means to satisfy or defend himself in the [personal injury] proceedings.” Plaintiff asked that the judgment be set aside as void. The trial court denied plaintiff’s motion, finding that plaintiff was “at most, an incidental beneficiary,” and that while she “had an interest affected by the outcome of the case,” her “rights rise no higher than the rights of [defendant] which were negated by his failure to cooperate.” The Court of Appeals disagreed and vacated the declaratory judgment.