Insurer seeks to avoid claims from wedding accident

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A Michigan insurance company is seeking to avoid paying for any claims made by Mavris Arts & Event Center in Indianapolis involving a high-profile fatal wedding-shuttle accident in June.

Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Co., based near Saginaw, this week asked the U.S. District Court of Southern Indiana to relieve it from paying claims related to the case, including those in a lawsuit filed by members of the wedding party. 

John Mavris, owner of the downtown events center at 121 S. East St., said his business won't suffer even if the insurer doesn't have to pay because he has insurance coverage from "several" other companies.

"I'm not concerned at all," Mavris said. He declined to comment further on the case.

Frankenmuth is asking a federal judge to declare that it doesn't have to cover the Mavris Center for any judgements that might result from a lawsuit filed in January by Tom and Lauren Hanley and the rest of their wedding party. The wedding-day shuttle accident, which killed their 29-year-old friend, James Douglas, made national headlines.

The party was en route from the Mavris the afternoon of June 5 for a photo shoot before the ceremony. The driver, headed west on South Street, ran a red light at Delaware Street and collided with an SUV, according to the lawsuit.

The wedding party claims Mavris was negligent because it supplied a shuttle built to hold 14 people when 16 people, including the driver, were on board. Lauren Hanley said she ordered a limo large enough for 18 people, but learned shortly before the wedding day that it wasn't available.

Most of the wedding party sat on makeshift benches without seatbelts, while one person stood near the driver and another crouched in the doorwell, according to the wedding party's suit. The suit claims the driver, Jerry Lowery, should have had a commercial driver's license, not just a chauffer's license.

Every member of the wedding party was injured. The Hanleys were married later that day at Methodist Hospital in a conference room near the emergency room. Their reception at the Mavris was turned into a dinner and prayer service for Douglas.

The Mavris bought Frankenmuth insurance policies for commercial general liability, garage coverage, umbrella coverage and business auto coverage. Frankenmuth claims none of those policies apply because the shuttle was owned by John Mavris himself, not one of his business entities.

The wedding party's suit against Mavris doesn't specify the amount of damages sought.



  • J2 is correct
    J2, you're right. This case begs the question whether Mavris' personal lines agent or commercial lines agent asked the right questions. Millions of small business people use personal autos on company business.
  • missing the point
    While I appreciate people's feelings and comments about this case, what I believe is happening here is not an insurance company trying to skirt it's responsibilities. This is an all too common mistake that many businesses make. Insurance policies are very specific in what they will and will not cover. They have to be. Many business owners mistakenly assume that personal vehicles are covered by their commercial policies. Typical un-endorsed commercial vehicle policies only cover vehicles titled in the name of the business. If the owner wants to extend that coverage, they would need to have a "hired, non-owned" endorsement added to the policy. This accident would need to be covered by the owners personal auto insurance, if this is what occurred. Saying the commercial policy should cover this accident is as random as saying the business owners home-owners or cell phone insurance policy should cover this accident.
  • In Addition
    Adding to what was posted here about all of the passengers being injured, I think you bring up a very good point. In the article, they state that "Most of the wedding party sat on makeshift benches without seatbelts". So are you telling me that the rest of the party sat in normal seating and wore their seatbelts in their wedding attire before the service? I think not. I think it is awful and heart wrenching what has happened, but I don't think blaming the capacity of the car on people being injured should be allowed anywhere near this case.
  • wow
    I sure hope "green" never loses a family member who is an income earner. "Life happens" will not pay the mortgage or pay catastrophic medical bills. Geez!
    K, I wanted to expand on the comments from green. The "Life Happens" quote is pointing to the obvious that this was an accident. While horrific and devastating, an accident nonetheless. The driver did not "make a fatal choice" as you say. He did not wake up that morning to injure or kill someone and neither did the event center. In fact, the lawsuit does not touch on the drivers "choice" or rather mistake, of running a red light. It seeks to blame the event planner for willful negligence that caused the damages. I see the specifics of the seat capacity, the two additional passengers, but I also see that everyone was injured, not just the two extra passengers. I also see that the wedding party learned of the smaller vehicle capacity before the day of the wedding. Based on your argument of the driver "making a choice", it seems that the wedding party made the choice to get on the vehicle in the first place. If I order a ladder with a 300 pound capacity, but am shipped one with a 150 pound capacity, and I know this but chose to use the ladder anyway; I would be hard pressed to blame someone else for an accident that occurred. Had the wedding party instructed the event planner to provide a cab for the additional guests, my thought is that he would have gladly done so at his expense. But they did not, they made a choice, as you put it, to board the vehicle. They did not however, choose to be injured or choose to run a red light. Hence the reason this is not their fault either, hence the reason this was a tragic ACCIDENT.
    • Of course there's blame
      I am against frivolous law suits as much as anyone, but the driver ran a red light and was directly responsible for the accident. His negligence, coupled with the inadequate vehicle led to the death and injuries. No, things surely did not go exactly as planned. I'm sure they hadn't intended to turn their reception into a memorial service. I also have to disagree with your point that since they went ahead and ate the food, they have no business suing for costs.
    • Lawsuit Rebuttle
      While I agree with your "life happens" comment. They aren't suing b/c of just damages and loss...and your comment "I just don't see the necessity in blaming others when things don't go exactly as we think they should." is terribly harsh. The driver WAS negligent and put everyone at risk by running a red light. He made a fatal choice for whatever reason and caused the death of another human being. Things do happen for a reason but he caused this by failing to stop when the light turned red! You don't just walk away from that and say "life happens".
    • Lawsuits
      While this is all a terrible tragedy and a wedding day was dampened, suing will never bring Mr. Douglas back.
      I can understand suing for the costs incurred by the bridal party for the reception and such IF the event was cancelled.
      I just don't see the necessity in blaming others when things don't go exactly as we think they should.
      My sympathies to the friends and family of Mr Douglas. However, I believe things happen for a reason. They may not be clear or understanable at the moment or may never be for that matter.
      Life happens, it doesn't always have to be someone's fault.

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