We all know that policy language, definitions, and clauses are crucial elements of an insurance policy. The meaning of a term or clause can determine the applicability of coverage. But keep in mind that the meaning within an insurance policy is not always the same as the definition found in Webster’s dictionary.
Naturally, parties may disagree as to the meaning of certain language within a policy and litigation becomes necessary. Recently, the Indiana Court of Appeals found in favor of Geico in a case which questioned the language of the “Ownership, Maintenance, or Use” clause found in most auto policies.
Lewis Wagner distributed this Insurance Law Alert which contains greater detail on the importance of the court’s holding. (Estate of Curtis v. GEICO General Ins. Co., 2017 WL 942813 (Ind. Ct. App. 2017)). Essentially, two individuals became involved in a road-rage interaction after the vehicle that Curtis was driving bumped into the insured’s parked vehicle. After the two drivers exited their vehicles, a physical altercation ensued. Curtis died nearly one year later and his estate filed a wrongful death action against Geico’s insured.
The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the altercation did not arise out of the “use” of the covered auto. The road-rage altercation did not constitute “use” as reasonably contemplated by the parties and the insured was no longer in an “active relationship” with his vehicle once he exited same. The “use” of the auto was not deemed to be the predominating cause of Curtis’ injuries.
While this case may appear at its surface to reinforce the dangers of road-rage and the lack of insurance coverage responding to those confrontations that go beyond the vehicle, the resulting decision has greater ramifications within the insurance industry. When considering the applicability of “ownership, maintenance, or use” of an auto, ask yourself:
- Does an “active relationship” exist between the vehicle and the driver?
- Is the “use” of the vehicle the “efficient and predominating cause” of the accident?
- Is the “use” of the vehicle one which was reasonably expected by the parties?
Clarity surrounding policy language will continue via cases such as this. Each day we are faced with opportunities to review and understand the applicability of policy provisions in light of new and unique situations. Unsure about language within your insurance policies? Reach out to your MJ Consultant today, or feel to reach out directly to me at 317.805.7500 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We are happy to help!