The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, which oversees federal appellate cases in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, recently ruled an auto insurance company has no duty to indemnify a defendant under his employer’s policy for an incident in which the defendant killed one and wounded another with a shotgun while driving his work van.
While such a ruling may seem common sense, it’s worth noting injuries and wrongful death resulting from the incident had initially been characterized as an “accident” because the defendant purportedly hadn’t intended to inflict those injuries. Further, the company insurer was deemed liable because, while the worker was off-the-clock, there was evidence to suggest he did have permission to drive the work van.
Our Montgomery car accident lawyers know that, while this incident involved a unique set of circumstances, the issue of employer liability when a worker or commercial vehicle is involved in a crash is one that arises with fair frequency.
What the appellate court deemed a key point to sort out was whether the worker did in fact have permission to drive the van at the time of the incident. If he did not, all other arguments against the insurer would be moot because that fact alone would have meant he wasn’t covered under his employer’s policy at the time of the crash.
In this case, the van had been parked at the employee’s home, next to his Ford Mustang. He was at home and not on-the-clock when two tow truck operators knocked on his door and informed him the Mustang was being repossessed. The news did not go over well. Just as the tow operators were finishing hitching the vehicle to the truck, the vehicle owner came outside with a loaded shotgun. The truck drivers fled. The man hopped into his work van and chased them, gun in hand.
Although there was dispute as to whether the gunshots were intentionally fired to cause harm, there is no question the armed man was ultimately responsible for the death of one tow operator and serious injuries of another. He was convicted in criminal court and sentenced to life in prison.
The question before the civil court was whether the company auto insurer should be liable. The trial court in Georgia ruled that because the worker had “permission” of the employer to operate the van, he was covered under the policy. At a bench trial, a judge determined the incident was an “accident” under the terms of the policy.
However, that ruling was reversed on appeal to the Eleventh Circuit. In reaching its conclusion, the court noted the company’s strict policy, which the defendant had signed, indicating the van was not to be driven for any purpose outside of work. Although there was evidence personal use was routinely overlooked, the court found it unquestionable that the worker did not have permission to drive the vehicle to carry out an attack on tow-truck drivers.
Because the court found the defendant wasn’t covered, there was no need to further weigh whether the shootings constituted an “accident.”
When accidents involve those who were working or driving work vehicles, it’s important for injured parties to consult with an experienced attorney.
Call Allred & Allred P.C. at 334.396.9200 to speak with a Montgomery personal injury lawyer.
Travelers Property Casualty Co. v. Moore, et al., Aug. 14, 2014, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Allstate Indemnity Co. v. Rice – Umbrella Liability Coverage, Aug. 7, 2014, Montgomery Car Accident Lawyer Blog