Maine Supreme Judicial Court: Murder on Highway Not “Accident” Per Insurance Policy

A horrific highway shooting death in Pennsylvania sparked a dispute between the parents of the victim and several auto insurance companies based in Maine. Our Maine wrongful death lawyers found it instructive to explore.

The victim was shot and then run off the road while driving on thegun interstate. He later died of his injuries. His assailant was initially unknown, although the incident was first believed to be a result of road rage. Later, however, the gunman was identified, and it was revealed the shooter mistook the victim for another man, whom the defendant was targeting – the paramour of a woman he’d been stalking. Authorities also suspected him of killing that woman in West Virginia the day before, and he was later convicted of her murder and sentenced to life in prison.

The question, then, was whether the decedent’s parents, as his personal representatives, could collect uninsured motorist benefits from several auto insurance carriers. Uninsured motorist benefits exist to provide coverage when someone is involved in an accident with another driver who either does not have insurance or is not identified. But the key issue in this case was the way in which the policies defined “accident.”

An “accident” doesn’t necessarily mean a collision between two cars. Conversely, it may not mean that every vehicle collision would qualify as an accident. For example, if someone intentionally runs into you with their vehicle in an incident of apparent road rage, that may not be covered. It will vary from policy to policy. According to the Insurance Information Institute, many auto insurers have road rage incidents listed as an exemption because they stem from intentional aggression, rather than purely an accident.

That said, one could pursue action against the driver personally, under Maine’s wrongful death statute, 18-A M.R.S. § 2-804. Homicide is an intentional tort and can be a cause of action for a civil lawsuit. However, if the defendant doesn’t have any assets of which to speak, and they don’t have an insurance policy that would actually cover the claim, such a case may be futile.

It’s important to speak with an experienced wrongful death attorney in Bangor to identify all potential defendants and to know exactly which options you may have.

In this case, the state supreme court justices weighed the fact that each UM policy from which the plaintiffs sought coverage required that in order for a loss to be covered, it had to have been caused by “an accident.” The term “accident” was not defined in any of the policies, but the court stated it was unambiguous and could be explained based on its plain meaning. The court noted the dictionary definition, which defines an accident as an unintended or unforeseen injurious occurrence involving an automobile. In this case, the decedent’s death was not unforeseen, nor was it unintended. The gunman here acted deliberately with purpose to harm the decedent.

The court took stock of the fact that some other state high courts (Iowa, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Jersey) have taken the view that the question of whether a loss results from an “accident” is taken from the perspective of the insured. Based on this approach, the conduct of the assailant may have been deliberate rather than an accident, but there is no evidence it was foreseeable to the victim, and therefore it would be covered.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court, however, held that an intentional act that is not foreseen by the victim does not transform into an “accident.” The court held, as have other jurisdictions, that injuries resulting from willful acts are not accidents because the harm was intended.

For this reason, those who have been victims of road rage in Maine need to consult with an experienced Bangor injury lawyer.

If you are a victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-490-5218 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Allocca, v. York Insurance Co. of Maine et al, Aug. 29, 2017, Maine Supreme Judicial Court

More Blog Entries:

Maine Supreme Judicial Court: Dog Bite Not Covered by Auto Accident Policy, Aug. 15, 2017, Bangor Wrongful Death Attorney Blog