Insurance Coverage for Intentional Tort With a Vehicle

The Bangor Daily News recently reported the arrest of a 22-year-old man on a charge of elevated aggravated assault after he allegedly intentionally struck a Bath Iron Works employee who was walking to his job.

It was a Wednesday morning, and the victim would later say the driver made some offensive comment to him just before he barreled into him with his vehicle. The force of impact caused victim to be propelled over the hood and windshield of the car before rolling over the roof and falling hard off the rear. The driver then reportedly fled the scene. Victim, despite serious injuries, managed to walk the rest of the way to work, where the incident was reported and he was rushed to a nearby hospital.

Authorities searched for the vehicle based on victim’s description, and later found the car in a wooded area owned by suspect’s family. Suspect was inside the resident and later arrested. At the time of the incident, he was out on bail for a previous DUI arrest.

This case gives rise to a question that occasionally comes up in motor vehicle injury cases, and that is: Can one be compensated by an insurance company when someone purposely strikes you with a vehicle? The answer will depend on the language of the policy. The issue has come up increasingly with regard to issues of road rage. The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reports that aggressive driving behaviors – speeding, racing, tailgating, failure to observe signs and regulations and confrontations with other drivers – account for half of all traffic crashes. But the key question will be whether the insured intended to cause harm or whether he or she was simply being negligent in their actions.

Most liability insurance policies, either by specific exclusion or through definition of a “covered occurrence” will deny liability for harm that is perpetrated intentionally. It is typically the burden of the insurer to prove a clause has applicability for purposes of excluding coverage for damage or injury that was intended or expected by the insurer. That usually means proving the insured intended for harm to be inflicted by conduct, even if he or she didn’t anticipate actual injuries.

When exclusion is by definition of “occurrence,” one must ask how we define “accident.” Many insurance companies will argue an accident is one in which the insured did not intend harm to plaintiff.

Some courts (i.e., Massachusetts in Newton v. Krasnigor) have held that even when the act itself was intended, the subsequent injuries won’t lead to exclusion if no damage was expected or intended or if damage of another type is expected or intended.

In some cases, plaintiffs may need to pursue uninsured motorist benefits from their own auto insurance company for such actions. In Maryland, the state supreme court ruled in 1997 in Harris v. Nationwide that UM/UIM carriers should provide coverage for intentional torts with a motor vehicle. Plaintiff had been injured when a thief in a car snatched her purse in a parking lot and ended up dragging her by the arm for about 15 feet, causing injury. Plaintiff’s UM insurer refused to pay, asserting this was no “accident.” But plaintiff pointed out language in the policy indicated coverage would be provided so long as the occurrence was not “caused intentionally by or at the direction of the insured.” By that definition, plaintiff as the UM policy holder was covered because she had not intended to harm herself.

These cases can pose additional challenges that other types of auto accident victims may not face. It’s imperative to contact an experienced injury lawyer to ensure your rights are protected in the wake of any serious injury incident.

If you are the victim of a Bangor car accident, contact Peter Thompson & Associates at 1-800-804-2004 for a confidential consultation to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Bath man accused of hitting man with vehicle, Dec. 10, 2015, By Ryan McLaughlin, Bangor Daily News

More Blog Entries:

Angelo v. Campus Crest at Orono LLC – Police Officer Sues for Dangerous Condition on Property, Dec. 10, 2015, Bangor Injury Lawyer Blog

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