“Multiple Occurrences” in Maine Auto Insurance Coverage

Police in Augusta responded to a multi-vehicle pile-up in both the north and southbound lanes of Interstate 95, caused initially by one 20-year-old driver who failed to slow down in time to avoid a collision with a tractor-trailer ahead. This set off a chain reaction of events, which included several vehicles slamming into the wreckage. One of those vehicles contained a loaded gun. When that vehicle caught fire, a gun inside exploded, causing 40 bullets to explode within a 10-minute time period.

The crash resulted in numerous injuries, and a mass of mangled metal that closed the interstate for hours while authorities worked to aid the injured and clear debris. Authorities were still investigating, but anticipate filing charges in relation to the crash.

Undoubtedly, the incident will also give way to a flurry of auto insurance claims, and potentially some civil lawsuits if those agencies aren’t forthcoming in paying those claims. Our Bangor car accident lawyers recognize that one of the elements that can complicate situations like this is the question of singular versus multiple occurrences.

Here’s why it matters: Most auto insurance policies cap coverage on a per-accident or per-incident basis. That means if the per-incident cap is $300,000, that’s the most everyone is going to receive, collectively. However, if it is determined there were multiple incidents in the course of this event, the payout per injured party is going to be significantly higher.

Generally, insurance companies will argue against a theory of multiple occurrences in a multi-vehicle crash, and it’s often necessary for injured parties to take the claim to court. In weighing such a case, courts will need to consider whether the injuries resulted from a continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful conditions. The judge is going to look at whether there was one, uninterrupted or continuing cause that led to all the injuries.

Generally, crashes with multiple vehicles will constitute one occurrence when they occur nearly simultaneously or are separated by a very short period of time, and the insured does not maintain or regain control of his vehicle between crashes. Such cases may be considered multiple occurrences when the crashes are separated by a period of time or when the insured maintains or regains control of the vehicle prior to a subsequent crash.

Maine case law is not extensive in this regard, so judges are often given broad discretion.  In 1983, a Maine District Court adopted the “cause” test with regard to multiple occurrences in Honeycomb Sys., Inc. v. Admiral Ins. Co. In that case, the court ruled there must be continuous, repeated exposure to conditions which proximately resulted in the damage in order for an occurrence to be considered singular. Separate proximate causes will be closely analyzed.

So for example, while the 20-year-old in this case may be responsible for the initial crash, other drivers who may have been speeding or failed to yield or were intoxicated may have proximately caused the subsequent crashes on the highway that day. This is true even if the initial wreck was a contributing factor.

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:

Forty bullets accidentally go off during six-car pileup on I-95, state police say, Aug. 7, 2014, By Dawn Gagnon, BDN Staff

More Blog Entries:

Speeding Crackdown in Construction Zones Aims to Prevent Bangor Traffic Collisions, Aug. 8, 2014, Bangor Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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