Anyone who has ever been involved in a crash with a tractor-trailer – and lives to tell about it – will point out that aside from the often arduous physical recovery, the battle of insurers can be exhausting.
In many cases, the tractor-trailers are owned by own firm. The cargo is owned by another company. There is sometimes a middleman who arranges these contracts. Drivers in many cases are subcontractors. All of this makes for tricky legal questions when it comes to which insurance company foots the bill when the truck driver is at-fault for the accident.
All of the companies and insurers involved are going to be looking out for their own interests first and foremost. The assistance of an experienced truck accident lawyer can be critical to ensuring that the victim’s rights are not lost in all of this.
In the recent case of Old Republic Insurance Co. v. Stratford Insurance Co., two insurance companies were sparring court over which should be responsible for providing coverage to victims of a truck accident caused by the big rig driver. The New Hampshire Supreme Court was asked to weigh in on state law for a case pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
According to court records, both parties to the case provided coverage for a tractor-trailer that crashed into a passenger vehicle. The owner of the tractor (a rental truck company) purchased an insurance policy from Old Republic. The for-hire motor company also had a separate insurance policy, through Stratford. However, pursuant to the lease agreement the motor company signed with the rental truck firm, it was the rental truck firm that was responsible for liability coverage for the tractor.
At the time of the crash, the trailer was owned by soft drink company. Meanwhile, the driver was employed by the for-hire motor company.
(You see how this can quickly get complicated?)
The passenger vehicle occupants who were injured sued the driver, the motor company, the truck rental company and the soft drink firm. They sought an unspecified amount of damages.
Old Republic provided a defense for the defendants, but asked that Stratford assist with defense costs. Stratford refused the request, saying it didn’t have any obligation to share in the cost of defending or indemnifying insureds because the coverage it provided was in excess to coverage provided by Old Republic. It wouldn’t be responsible until Old Republic’s coverage had been exhausted.
Old Republic sued Stratford. It sought a declaratory judgment that Stratford had an obligation to split the costs for defense. A counterclaim was filed by Stratford for a declaratory judgment that Old Republic was the primary carrier and that Stratford was only supplying excess coverage.
A federal trial court sided with Stratford on the issue of it being an excess carrier, but held that it was obligated under state law to share equally in defense costs. The appeals court upheld the finding of Stratford as an excess carrier, but as far as when the duty to defend is triggered, the appellate court said that was a question for the state supreme court.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court noted this was a question it had never before settled, and it decided that the excess insurer’s duty to defend was only triggered when the primary insurance company’s coverage is exhausted.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Old Republic Insurance Co. v. Stratford Insurance Co., Jan. 26, 2016, New Hampshire Supreme Court
More Blog Entries:
Bacon v. Universal Insurance Company – Disputing UIM Benefit Denial, Jan. 17, 2016, Charlotte Truck Accident Lawyer Blog