Snowbird Drama: Toyota Highlander vs. $100,000 Lamborghini Crash Proves You Shouldn’t Lie to Your Insurance Company

In a crash between a Toyota Highlander and a Lamborghini, one company lost a significant amount of money after “lying” to an insurance company. But it isn’t that simple. The owners took out an insurance policy on the Highlander in Massachusetts, but a relative drove the vehicle around Florida.

According to the documents provided by the United States Court of Appeals, the court rejected a claim filed by one insurance company over a crash. The crash happened in Florida, but the Toyota owners lived in Massachusetts. Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance insured the Highlander SUV.

Toyota Highlander vs. $100,000 Lamborghini Crash | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The Lamborghini owners insured the supercar through GEICO. Unfortunately, the Lamborghini crash injured the driver and caused the accident. Ameriprise ended up rescinding coverage on the SUV. The insurer stated that the owners “breached their obligations under the policy by making material misrepresentations when they renewed coverage in 2017.”

GEICO paid the bulk of the bill due to the lack of payout from Ameriprise. The document notes the Lamborghini was worth more than $100,000. Philip and Claudia Feldberg purchased the Ameriprise policy in Massachusetts and listed the two owners as the only drivers.

The policy noted that the primary home of the Toyota Highlander was in Peabody, Massachusetts. In this policy, Ameriprise had something called the “snowbird clause.” Under Ameriprise’s Massachusetts Auto Eligibility Guidelines, which the insurance company strictly enforced, the Toyota SUV was to spend more than half of the year within the state.

Toyota Highlander vs. $100,000 Lamborghini Crash
Toyota Highlander vs. $100,000 Lamborghini Crash | Pietro D’Aprano/Getty Images

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If the policyholder follows those instructions, the vehicle remains covered under the policy. However, the owners headed down to Naples, Florida, to escape the winter. Insurance companies call this being a “snowbird.” However, the policy was supposed to offer more coverage in the case of a claim. Still, it also contained clauses that allowed the insurance company to cancel coverage should Ameriprise want to.

In the language of the policy, Ameriprise could cancel the policy if the owners provided “false, deceptive, misleading or incomplete information in any application or policy change request.” When the policyholders headed down to Florida, the couple should have updated the insurance company about the changes.

The Feldbergs received a renewal notice from Ameriprise on September 23, 2017. There was only a need to return the renewal notice if there was something to change on the policy. Ameriprise believed nothing needed to be updated as the Feldbergs did not send the renewal notice back.

Unfortunately, the Feldbergs family had three separate incidents during 2018. Another driver crashed the RAV4 on the policy in a Walmart parking lot in Naples, Florida. Then, a relative crashed a Honda Accord on the policy back in Massachusetts.

Martin the GEICO gecko | Erika Goldring/Getty Images for ACM

In July, when the accident occurred with the Lamborghini, another relative (Dawn Feldberg) was behind the wheel. The accident damaged the Lamborghini and totaled the Highlander. It also left Dawn injured.

While the Feldbergs were in Massachusetts, the couple filed a claim with Ameriprise. The company paid for a rental car and Dawn’s injuries after the accident. But this set off an investigation into the location of the Highlander and who primarily drove the vehicle. According to Philip Feldberg, one of the policyholders, the Toyota Highlander mostly lived in Florida.

Philip bought the Toyota SUV in Massachusetts and brought it down to Dawn’s house in Florida. He intended to drive the SUV back up, but he never felt up for the drive. Dawn had permission to drive the vehicle but was technically in breach of the policy as it did not spend any time in Massachusetts.

This is how GEICO was left to pay for the totaled Lamborghini without the help of Ameriprise. The Feldberg family submitted formal documents stating the Highlander was supposed to stay in Massachusetts. It didn’t work out that way. GEICO said Ameriprise didn’t have enough evidence to prove that the family sought to deceive the company. Plus, there wasn’t enough evidence to verify that the renewal form would have changed anything.

“Ameriprise used language as precise as a GPS tracker: it told the Feldbergs to report any changes to the Highlander’s principal place of garaging and to its customary drivers.”

U.S. District Court in Massachusetts

The court in Massachusetts granted summary judgment in favor of Fedlberg’s insurance company, Ameriprise. The court found that the language used was appropriate. After much back and forth, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals came to a conclusion and decided that Ameriprise was allowed to rescind the coverage due to the unintentional misrepresentation.

Thus, if you are a snowbird, be sure to check your insurance policy information before traveling out of state for half the year. Also, don’t lie to your insurance company. You never know when a Lamborghini crash might happen.

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