Uninsurable Driver Refused License by DOI
Zachary Phillips, at age 16, drove recklessly in an accident that resulted in the death of his passenger. He claimed he was not driving but evidence established he was driving the vehicle that resulted in the death of his passenger. He sought judicial review of the Massachusetts Division of Insurance order revoking his license.
In Zachary A. Phillips v. Board Of Appeal Of The Division Of Insurance, Appeals Court of Massachusetts, 16-P-417 2017 WL 1103000 (March 24, 2017) the Registrar of Motor Vehicles (registrar) revoked the driver’s license of the plaintiff, Zachary A. Phillips, on the ground that he posed an “immediate threat” to public safety. The board of appeal of the Division of Insurance (board) affirmed that decision. In 2014, Phillips sought to have his license reinstated. The registrar declined to do so, and after holding an evidentiary hearing, the board again affirmed Phillips’s indefinite suspension.
In 2008, Phillips and his classmate, Mark Frattaroli, were students at Lawrence Academy in Groton. On the night of September 27, 2008, Phillips and Frattaroli were asked to leave the school’s homecoming dance, and they did so in a car owned by Frattaroli’s mother. Phillips was sixteen years old at the time. He held a junior operator’s license for only nineteen days at the time of the accident. His driving with Frattaroli in the car was itself a violation of the terms of that license. The weather that night was rainy and foggy, yet Phillips drove along the streets of Groton at extreme speed, estimated by an accident reconstruction expert to be between eighty-one and eighty-six miles per hour in a thirty-five miles per hour zone. After Phillips apparently lost control of the car as it rounded a curve, the car crashed into a tree and rolled over. Frattaroli was killed and Phillips suffered serious injuries.
In April of 2009, Phillips took a crash prevention course. Despite this, he had a second motor vehicle accident later that year while driving with his younger sister. In that accident, for which Phillips was found responsible and incurred a significant insurance surcharge, the car skidded off the road and ended up in a ditch.
After testing showed Phillips was driving the Groton police requested that his license be revoked based on an immediate threat. In addition, for his role in the 2008 crash, the Commonwealth charged Phillips with delinquency based on vehicular homicide and operating to endanger.
After trial on the vehicular homicide charge started Phillips pleaded to sufficient facts, and the Juvenile Court judge continued the case without a finding until his nineteenth birthday. Phillips was placed on probation, and his driver’s license was suspended. He completed a specified safe driving course that was required as a condition of probation, and the delinquency case was dismissed. Had he been found delinquent as charged, he would have faced a mandatory fifteen-year license suspension.
Despite the plea bargain and the significant mounting evidence demonstrating that he was the driver during the September, 2008, accident, Phillips took the position in various other forums that Frattaroli had been driving. For example, in the context of a dispute related to insurance coverage, Phillips swore out an affidavit stating that he was only a passenger in the car and that “Frattaroli was responsible for the accident that took his life.” That dispute resulted in civil litigation that ended in January of 2014, with a jury finding that Phillips had been the driver.
The board declined to reinstate Phillips’s license, and it subsequently issued a ten-page, single-spaced “Statement of Reasons for Decision.” It concluded that “Phillips is a danger to public safety on the road” and that “[k]eeping him off the road until he is more mature will protect the public.”
The principal thrust of Phillips’s appeal is that instead of focusing on whether he remained an unsafe driver, the board proceeding focused more on punishing him for his role in causing Frattaroli’s death. The trial judge found that the board did not abuse its discretion and entered judgment affirming the board’s decision.
The court of appeal was unpersuaded by Phillips’s contention that the board strayed from its job of determining whether he was a safe driver and that its conclusion that he was unsafe was pretextual. The board’s decision accurately highlights that license revocation “is a non-punitive sanction designed to protect public safety.” To be sure, the decision does refer to Phillips’s immaturity and his “attitude,” and comments made by the board’s chairman during the proceedings focus on Phillips’s failure to demonstrate “accountability.”
Although Phillips seeks to portray the determination of whether someone is a safe driver as confined to issues of skill and knowledge, the court agreed with the board’s perspective that issues of maturity and judgment also play an important role (especially with regard to young drivers). The board’s characterization of the choices Phillips made on September 27, 2008, as “extremely reckless,” if anything, underplays their egregiousness. In addition, Phillips was found responsible for another accident the following year.
Given Phillips’s subsequent conduct, including his failure to accept responsibility for his actions, the board acted well within its powers in determining that he remained a potential menace on the roads.
The Massachusetts Department of Insurance acted with wisdom and skill by refusing to allow a young man who was responsible for the death of a friend and then, without remorse, blamed the friend for the accident he caused and continued his wrongful conduct causing a single car accident with his sister in the car. He was found by a jury to be the driver at the time of the death and then had the gall to ask the DOI to let him have a license because he wasn’t the driver. Chutzpah can be admired but not in this situation where he refused to take responsibility for his wrongful acts.
This article and all of the blog posts on this site summarize cases published by courts of the various states and the United States. The court decisions have been modified from the actual language of the court decisions, were condensed for ease of reading, and convey the opinions of the author regarding each case.
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 49 years in the insurance business.
Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.
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