The definition of an “auto accident” is more fluid than one might imagine. It’s not always the crashing of one vehicle into another or object or person. It could in some cases involve injuries or death stemming from the use of that motor vehicle.
In the case of Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co., the questions certified to the Washington Supreme Court were whether injury to an insured pedestrian “arose out of” an intentional firing of a gun from an uninsured pickup truck, and secondly whether it’s material that the shooter intended to harm anyone when he fired the gun.
So plaintiff was shot by a firearm while standing outside of a bar. The man who fired the gun was in an uninsured vehicle, owned by a friend. The shooter would later say he did not intend to shoot anyone and he didn’t think he was firing his weapon in a place where people were standing. There were questions of fact as to whether the vehicle was stopped or moving at the time of the incident and also whether the shooter quickly accelerated away from the scene after firing the shots.
Plaintiff then sought uninsured motorist coverage from her own insurance company for this “accident.” The policy in question allowed insureds to collect UM/UIM coverage if they sustained bodily injury caused by an accident and the liability of the owner/operator for these damages stemmed from the ownership, maintenance or use of the underinsured vehicle. Insurer denied the claim, arguing the injuries didn’t arise out of use of the truck.
Plaintiff filed a lawsuit and the case was moved to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.
The district court, before deciding the case, certified questions about whether an intentional shooting was something that could “arise out of” vehicle use and whether the shooter’s intention matters. In most cases, insurance does not cover intentional acts of harm.
The state high court noted that while the state never formally adopted a clear rule to indicate when an injury “arises out of” vehicle use, case law has established there has to be some causal connection between the use of the vehicle and the resulting injury. That is, the vehicle and/or an attachment to it doesn’t need to be the direct cause of an injury. Rather, the facts have to establish the accident involved some causal relationship between the condition of the vehicle, some aspect of its operation or some permanent attachment of it.
In fact, the court noted that finding a causal connection between vehicle use and gunshot injury isn’t all that novel in the state. Further, the court noted the phrase “arising out of” is supposed to be liberally construed in terms of ascertaining a causal connection. It’s intended to be much broader than “caused by” the use of a vehicle. Insurance benefits too are to be liberally construed in favor of the public.
That said, a vehicle can’t be simply the coincidental place where the injury happened. It has to contribute in some fashion to producing the injury.
As far as the second question, the parties both agreed the injury was caused by an “accident” as it was defined in the policy. Thus, the court ruled the defendant’s intent doesn’t affect whether the injury “arose out of” the use of the automobile.
What this ruling means is plaintiff may continue to pursue her federal injury lawsuit.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Kroeber v. Geico Ins. Co., Jan. 14, 2016, Washington Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Benjamin – South Carolina Supreme Court Rules on Crash Insurance Case, Jan. 5, 2016, Winston-Salem Injury Lawyer Blog