Homeowner Liability Insurance Coverage Upheld for Harmful Accident

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans recently affirmed that a policyholder was covered by his Homeowner’s policy for injuries inflicted during a brutal accident where another was seriously injured. While leaving a party, Hurst – the policyholder – fashioned a lock pick out of wire to open the door of his truck in which he had locked his keys. After gaining access, he flung away the wire and it bounced off the back of his truck and into the open window of another departing guest, Ms. Baker, injuring her severely.

Hurst held two liability insurance policies with Liberty Mutual: a $300,000 Homeowner’s policy and a $30,000 Automotive policy. The injured Baker sued Hurst, Liberty Mutual Insurance, and her own Uninsured Motorist carrier: Allstate. Through procedural motions, both Baker and Liberty Mutual asked the lower court to make a determination as to whether Hurst was covered by the higher limit homeowners’ policy at the time of the accident.

The Homeowners’ policy included a provision excluding coverage for personal liability and medical payments for bodily injury “arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of motor vehicles.” The heart of the issue became whether Hurst’s use of the wire to gain access to his vehicle and throwing it into his truck bed was “use or loading of the vehicle” such that it would bar the coverage of the Homeowners’ policy.

The lower court ruled that Hurst’s throwing of the metal object onto the hard surface of the truck bed had no connection to the use of the truck; it was the disposal of the object itself that was negligent. This is because courts consider the role the vehicle played in the entire scheme. Here, the Fourth Circuit reasoned that the vehicle must be central to the theory of liability and that here it was not – the flinging of the wire was at the heart of Hurst’s liability for injuring Baker. Applying the relevant legal standard from a case called Carter, the Court considered whether (1) the conduct of the insured was a proximate cause of the injury (it was); and (2) whether it was a use of the automobile (it was not). The Court therefore ruled that the exclusion for automobile use did not apply and Hurst’s conduct at the time of the accident.

Homeowners’ policies often include higher limits for liability than do automotive or other policies that people who injure you might have. Given the tragic nature of Ms. Baker’s injury, it is somewhat clear why she sought the Homeowners’ $300,000 policy coverage and why Liberty Mutual sought to deny coverage on that claim.

Legal expertise is very often required to achieve the best outcome for your injuries because insurance companies like Liberty Mutual will skillfully and zealously attempt to limit the amount payable to injured persons – as they did here.

But an experienced and conscientious attorney like those at the Berniard Law Firm can meet these challenges head on and pursue your best outcome. If you’ve been injured, contact us Toll-Free at 1-866-574-8005 or on the web at www.laclaim.com

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