Court Address Scope of Automobile Insurance Policy in Recent Personal Injury Claim

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently issued an opinion in a plaintiff’s appeal from a summary judgment motion entered in favor of an insurance company. According to the court’s opinion, a man owned a truck that was insured by the defendant and he used it to transport an intoxicated and delusional friend. While transporting him, the man’s friend jumped out of the moving truck, broke into the plaintiff’s home, and damaged their windows and property. The plaintiffs suffered injuries while attempting to restrain the intoxicated man.

The insurance policy on the man’s truck provided coverage for “the ownership, maintenance, or use of” his vehicle. The contract allows coverage for bodily injury to others and property damage resulting from an accident involving the insured vehicle. In 2014, the plaintiffs served the truck owner with a negligence complaint. The basis of the negligence complaint was that the truck owner assisted his friend in becoming intoxicated, took him for a drive instead of calling authorities, and followed his friend’s direction, driving him directly to the plaintiffs’ home.

The owner did not respond to the complaint, and the court entered a default judgment against him. In 2015, his insurance company received the complaint and hired counsel to defend the claim. During a damages hearing, the court found that the owner and his friend were jointly and severally liable. The plaintiffs then sought to apply the truck owner’s insurance policy to their award. The insurance company successfully moved for summary judgment. On appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the court inappropriately concluded that the damages were not caused by an accident that involved the car owner’s vehicle.

Under Maine law, unambiguous insurance policy language is interpreted by looking at the plain meaning of the terms. Whereas, ambiguous language is construed against the insurance company in favor of the policyholder. Courts will review the policy’s language from an average person’s perspective. In this case, the language of the owner’s policy stated that the company would provide coverage “caused by an accident that involves a vehicle.” Thus, the court considered the causal connection between the incident and the vehicle.

Maine courts have found that coverage will extend if there is a reasonable causal relationship between the use of a car and the injury. The court previously found that an automobile accident is an “unintended and unforeseen” injurious situation involving a vehicle. This may include situations other than a collision.

In this case, the policy covered damages caused by “an accident that involves a vehicle.” The court had not previously considered insurance coverage for damages stemming from assaults or other tortious acts by passengers outside of the insured vehicle. However, courts have addressed the general issue regarding whether injuries resulting from physical assaults by insured passengers arise out of the “use” of a vehicle. The consensus in those cases is that there is no causal relationship between the use of a vehicle and assault-caused injuries. Ultimately, this court found that the coverage did not extend because there was not a causal connection between the injury and the use of the vehicle as a vehicle.

Do You Need Assistance Evoking Car Insurance Coverage in Maine?

If you or someone you know needs assistance pursuing compensation for an injury or accident, contact the attorneys at Peter Thompson and Associates. The Maine auto accident and insurance dispute attorneys at our law firm have an in-depth understanding of the state’s complicated tort and insurance laws. Our attorneys have successfully advocated on behalf of injury victims in their claims for damages. We have recovered substantial amounts of compensation on behalf of our clients, including payments for medical bills, property damage, and pain and suffering. Contact our office at 207-874-0909 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.

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