Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Benjamin – South Carolina Supreme Court Rules on Crash Insurance Case

In any car accident injury case, one of the primary issues is insurance coverage. There are sometimes multiple insurance companies that have policies that may be applicable, and it’s important for those with injuries to have adequate representation to ensure they receive all the coverage to which they are entitled. caraccident6

In the recent South Carolina Supreme Court case of Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Benjamin, justices were asked to consider whether victims in an auto accident case were entitled to collect on both a commercial firm’s auto insurance policy and commercial general liability policy.

According to court records in the case, the company secured auto insurance coverage of up to $300,000 for six vehicles and five drivers. This coverage included combined liability, as well as uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage.

The company additionally purchased a commercial general liability policy that provided $2 million in coverage, or $1 million in liability coverage for hired autos and non-autos. However, there were exclusions in the CGL that excluded auto accidents. There was also a provision that this coverage wouldn’t be extended if there was some other same or similar policy available that offered the same coverage. The insureds, however, purchased an endorsement that provided liability coverage for bodily injury in auto accidents under limited circumstances. 

One day, an employee of the company, driving a truck owned by the business owner and used for business purposes, was involved in a car accident that resulted in injuries to plaintiff. Those injuries cost plaintiff more than $500,000 in medical expenses alone.

Plaintiffs sued the company/ vehicle owner, the driver and the company for injuries and damages. The insurer filed a motion for declaratory judgment, arguing it wasn’t required to provide coverage because the employee wasn’t a permissive driver. Trial court rejected that argument, finding he was a permissive driver.

On the auto insurance policy, the company paid out $300,000. However, there was still the matter of the CGL. The firm argued the CGL wasn’t available in this case because of the “same or similar” coverage already paid out. Trial court rejected this argument too, and found the CGL policy did apply and plaintiff should be allowed to collect that, in addition to the $300,000 she’d already been paid.

Insurance company appealed, arguing the commercial policy endorsement did not provide coverage for the crash due to the “same or similar coverage” provision. The state supreme court disagreed.

In explaining its reasoning, the court pointed out plaintiff’s bodily injury and property damage arose out of maintenance or use of an auto owned by the company owner, driven by an employee and insured under the auto insurance policy. The company was the named insured on the CGL, and although the employee wasn’t listed as a scheduled driver, he was a permissive driver, and the truck, because it was being used for business purposes, was also covered on the CGL policy.

Defendants argued the CGL was not ever intended to be supplemental or excessive coverage to the auto insurance, and provided coverage only other other circumstances. State supreme court disagreed.

Plaintiff will be allowed to recover additional damages for her car accident injury from the CGL.

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

Additional Resources:

Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Benjamin, Dec. 9, 2015, South Carolina Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Texas DPS v. Bonilla – Sovereign Immunity in Police-Involved Crash, Dec. 27, 2015, Spartanburg Auto Accident Attorney Blog

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