NC Appeals Court Weighs Liability for Injuries “Arising Out Of” Vehicle Use

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has ruled that a business auto insurance carrier must indemnify its client in connection with injury that reportedly “arose out of” vehicle use, even when the injuries didn’t directly involve the vehicle.
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Greensboro car accident lawyers understand the case harkens back to the 1986 state supreme court decision in State Capital Insurance Co. v. Nationwide Insurance Co., in which the court determined that the test for whether an auto insurance policy provides accident coverage is not whether the vehicle was the proximate cause of the accident, but rather whether there is a causal connection between the vehicle and the accident.

Previous case law determinations have held that liability “arising out of ownership, maintenance or use” is not subject to any narrow interpretation. Rather, the courts have held, the imitations are broad, general and comprehensive, as the intention has always been to effect broad coverage.

In Integon National Insurance Co. v. Helping Hands Specialized Transport et al., the incident in question occurred in the spring of 2010. An elderly woman’s hospice care doctors had reached the conclusion that she was nearing the end of her life. The goal at that point, they decided, was to keep her comfortable. It was determined that she would be sent home to spend her last days with her family.

Arrangements were made for her transport through a firm called Helping Hands. The agency arrived with a handicapped-accessible van. The woman’s Geri-chair was loaded into the van, and she was soon after safely transported to her residence, where her niece was waiting.

Prior to that, the company had made two phone calls to the niece asking whether a ramp would be necessary. The niece answered in the affirmative, but when the van arrived, no ramp was available.

A hydraulic lift was used to lower the patient onto the driveway. It started to rain. The driver rolled the woman up a sidewalk to the front steps of the home. The driver then asked if the niece had a wheelchair. She went inside and retrieved one, and she and the driver then transferred the patient from the Geri-chair and into the wheelchair without incident.

The driver then began to go up the stairs backwards, pulling the wheelchair up facing backwards as well. While ascending the first stair, the patient began to slip out of the wheelchair. Her niece grabbed one of her legs to keep her from falling out, and the driver then put his arm around the patient to keep her from falling further.

Once they got inside, they noticed the woman had sustained a serious gash on her leg. She died two days later.

The niece subsequently filed a personal injury lawsuit, alleging that the negligence of the defendants (which included the hospice provider as well as the transport company) had proximately resulted in her aunt’s injuries and death.

The auto insurance carrier for the transport firm had refused to indemnify the transport company on the grounds that the incident did not occur as the result of a crash.

However, the trial court granted the niece’s request for summary judgment on the issue of whether the insurer was obliged to provide coverage for the incident. The court pointed to the policy that allows for coverage of any incident that “arises out of” use of the vehicle.

The appellate court affirmed.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the insurance company will have to pay. The plaintiff still has to prove that the transport firm was negligent and further that those injuries were a proximate cause of her aunt’s death. But on the issue of whether the insurance policy covers incidents like this, the court has responded in the affirmative.

Contact the North Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices in Greensboro by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Integon National Insurance Co. v. Helping Hands Specialized Transport et al., May 6, 2014, North Carolina Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:
Pralle v. Milwicz – Proving Injuries Are Accident-Related, May 25, 2014, Greensboro Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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