FRANKFORT, Ky. — The Supreme Court of Kentucky has ruled against the estate of Craig Armstrong, a Kentucky man who died from injuries sustained in an April 2014 collision. Plaintiff’s attorneys argued that, owing to a clerical error, Martin Dodge Chrysler Jeep was the owner of the 1996 Chevrolet Cavalier in which Armstrong was a passenger and sought to establish vicarious liability as part of a wrongful death suit.
Both sides agreed the crash was caused by the driver, Jonathan Elmore, who ran a stop sign and struck another vehicle while delivering newspapers. Armstrong was in the passenger seat. Both men were fatally injured.
Elmore bought the Cavalier from DeWalt Auto Sales of Bowling Green, Ky., in January 2014. The month prior, DeWalt had purchased the vehicle from Martin, also located in Bowling Green, at a dealers-only auction. Armstrong’s estate discovered the vehicle’s title was never delivered to DeWalt, which had failed to notify the Warren County clerk of the sale within 15 days, as required by state law. Martin did file its required paperwork with the county clerk in December 2013, but missed its 15-day deadline.
Plaintiff’s attorneys sought to establish liability on two fronts: First, that the car still belonged to Martin at the time of the crash, and second, Martin violated state law by failing to demand proof of insurance from the buyer — in this case, DeWalt or the auction house.
In a unanimous decision, the court found the dealership and its insurer were not liable, noting that Martin’s paperwork was filed late but well before the fatal incident. The court also confirmed that state law does not require proof of insurance for wholesale transactions.
“At the time of the wreck, the title was still in Martin’s name as it had been assigned to the dealership at trade-in. However, it is also undisputed that Martin no longer had physical possession of the vehicle,” the court’s decision read, in part. “KRS 186.010 (7)(c) dictates that ‘[a] licensed motor vehicle dealer who transfers physical possession of a motor vehicle to a purchaser pursuant to a bona fide sale, and complies with the requirements of KRS 186A.220, shall not be deemed the owner of that motor vehicle solely due to an assignment to his dealership or a certificate of title in the dealership’s name.”