Third Circuit Explains Process for Court’s Interpretation of Insurance Policy in Vernon Parish Wreck

Previously on our personal injury blog, we have seen that an automobile liability insurance carrier’s coverage of a substitute vehicle is determined by the language of the insurance policy. Courts apply “ordinary contract principles” and interpret the policy’s language, and this interpretation “is usually a legal question that can be properly resolved in the framework of a motion for summary judgment.” Indeed, when the language of a policy is “clear and unambiguous a reasonable interpretation consistent with the obvious meaning and intent of the policy must be given.”

The court’s interpretation of an insurance policy’s language was central to the summary judgment in the recent case of Newman v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co., et al. In this case, the Third Circuit Court of Appeal for the State of Louisiana reviewed the Beauregard district court’s grant of the Clarendon American Insurance Company’s motion for summary judgment. On June 30, 2007, Ann Newman’s car was rear-ended by Leslie Roshong on Louisiana Highway 109 between Leesville and Vinton. Roshong was driving his personal vehicle, a 2006 Dodge Ram pickup truck, to a site in Vinton where he was to set up a mobile home that he moved from DeRidder as part of his business, Arrow Mobile Home Movers. Newman filed suit against Roshong and the insurer of his truck, State Farm. She later amended her complaint to add Clarendon, the provider of auto liability insurance for Arrow. Clarendon filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that it did not cover Roshong’s personal truck. The trial court agreed and dismissed Newman’s claims against Clarendon. On appeal, Newman argued that two of the endorsements in Roshong’s policy with Clarendon which concerned interstate commerce extended coverage to the accident. The court found these endorsements inapplicable because Roshong’s truck did not carry a permit from the Interstate Commerce Commission (as required by one) and did not leave the state of Louisiana on the day in question (as required by the other). The court concluded that “there is no genuine issue of material fact as to coverage under the Clarendon policy, as under the clear language of the policy, neither [endorsement] provision provides coverage for the accident at issue.” Further, “the trial court committed no error in its interpretation of the Clarendon policy.” Thus, the court upheld the summary judgment in favor of Clarendon.

It is understandable that Newman would want to ensure to include in litigation all insurance companies who may be liable for her damages related to the accident. However, courts will not overlook the plain language of an insurance policy to invent ways for a litigant to recover from an insurer who had no contractual connection with the incident in question. This decision reflects Louisiana’s public policy concern that insurance companies must be permitted to limit their liability by contract in order to, for example, cover a driver’s personal vehicle without committing to cover other vehicles owned by the driver’s business. Without this ability to define coverage, insurance companies would face too much exposure and would likely withdraw from the market.

If you are involved in a dispute with an insurance company over injuries your sustained in an accident, call the Berniard Law Firm at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with an attorney who can help you analyze the relevant policy provisions and obtain the recovery you deserve.

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