On the surface, the facts in the case of Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al. are at once tragic and absurd. Still, it resolves important questions about when employees using work vehicles might be covered under their company’s auto insurance policy.
Two men working for a tow truck operation, contracted to repossess vehicles, were attacked when they tried to do their job. As they hitched a repossessed Ford Mustang to the tow truck, the enraged owner fired several shots into the air with a shotgun. When the two tow truck operators fled, the Mustang still hitched to the back, the vehicle owner jumped into his work van and gave chase, firing several shots into the tow truck.
Ultimately, one of the tow truck operators was killed and the other seriously injured. The vehicle owner was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
There was no question the vehicle’s owner’s actions were deadly and tortious. But the fact that he was driving his employer’s van was central to the civil case for wrongful death brought by the plaintiffs, the surviving tow truck operator and the widow of the decedent. Our Greenville car accident attorneys know that cases like this reveal why it is so important to hire a lawyer with experience. So many times, personal injury law intersects with many other legal spheres, from criminal law to employment law to estate law. There are many cases where the facts give way to more complicated legal issues than it might first appear on the surface.
In this case, the plaintiffs argued argued the vehicle owner was operating a work vehicle and had permission to do so. Further, they asserted that because the gun-toting driver hadn’t intended to kill or seriously wound the men (rather, he sought to scare them, and the fatal shot fired was an unintentional one), the incident should be considered an “accident.” All of this would indicate the employer’s insurer would be liable to provide coverage according to the doctrine of vicarious liability.
This doctrine holds that even though the employer technically did nothing wrong, by virtue of the fact that it owned this vehicle and the worker had permission to drive it, the employer could be held responsible for death or serious injury resulting from the worker’s negligent operation of that vehicle .
However, there was no question the worker was not on duty at the time. It was sharply disputed as to whether the employee had permission to drive the van outside of work purposes.
The district court determined, as a matter of law, the worker had permission to drive the vehicle, and thus was insured under the policy at the time of the incident. Following a bench trial, the court found the shooting to be an “accident” under the terms of the policy, as the shooter had neither expected nor intended to cause injury or death. A judgment was entered in favor of the plaintiffs.
The defense appealed, and the federal appellate court reversed. First, the court considered evidence by the insurer that the employee work vehicle policy explicitly stated workers did not have permission to operate the vehicles for personal reasons. Although this ran contrary to the occasional practice to look the other way when workers disobeyed this directive, the court found nonetheless the worker did not have permission to drive the vehicle at the time of the incident for the purpose of chasing the tow truck operators. Therefore, the incident was not covered under the employer’s insurance policy.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al., Aug. 14, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for Eleventh Circuit
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Harris v. FedEx National – Truck Accident Lawsuit Weighed by 8th Circuit, Aug. 6, 2014, Greenville Car Accident Lawyer Blog