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Does UM coverage apply to gunshot death?

Does UM coverage apply to gunshot death?

March 27
10:15 2018

Does UM coverage apply to gunshot death?

On January 4, 2014, Timothy Austin Davison was driving to Maine in his father’s sport utility vehicle. While he was on Interstate 81 in Maryland, an assailant driving a pickup truck began pursuing Davison and fired shots at his vehicle. The two vehicles crossed the state line into Pennsylvania, and the assailant rammed his truck into the SUV, pushing it off the road onto the median. The assailant then reversed direction and approached Davison from the southbound side of the highway. The assailant pulled up next to Davison’s SUV in the median and from his truck fired multiple shots at Davison and drove away. Davison died of the gunshot wounds.

Four policies issued by the defendants were relevant to the case.

Davison was the named insured on an automobile policy and a motorcycle policy issued by Allstate Insurance Company. Each policy provided uninsured motorist coverage for bodily injury, provided the injury was caused by accident and arose out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an uninsured vehicle.

Davison’s father was the named insured in a York Insurance Company of Maine automobile policy that covered the SUV Davison was driving at the time he was killed. Under the policy, Davison, as a family member, was an insured. Uninsured motorist coverage was provided for bodily injury sustained by an insured if it was caused by an accident.

Davison’s mother was the named insured in a Horace Mann Insurance Company automobile policy that covered her vehicle. Uninsured motorist coverage applied to bodily injury that arose out of the operation or ownership of an uninsured motor vehicle.

In August 2015, Timothy Davison and Theresa L. Allocca individually, and Timothy as the personal representative of his son’s estate, filed a complaint against Allstate, York, and Horace Mann. The estate sought payment of UM benefits from Allstate and York. Davison and Allocca alleged that they were entitled to recover in their own right as statutory beneficiaries under the wrongful death statute, based on the UM coverage in their York and Horace Mann policies, respectively. All of these claims were based on an allegation that their son’s death was caused by a hit-and-run driver.

Each of the defendants moved for summary judgment, asserting that the losses arising from young Davison’s death were not covered by the UM provisions in the policies because his death was not caused by an “accident” and did not arise out of the “use” of a vehicle within the meaning of the policies or the UM statute. Timothy Davison opposed the defendants’ motions.

In June 2016, the court granted each summary judgment motion based on its conclusion that UM coverage applied only to the “reasonable and proper use” of an uninsured or hit-and-run vehicle and that the way the assailant used the vehicle he was operating did not constitute a proper use. The court did not reach the question of whether young Davison’s death was “caused by an accident” pursuant to the uninsured motorist policies and the UM statute. Timothy Davison appealed.

On appeal, Timothy Davison argued that the court erred by entering summary judgment in favor of the defendants because the terms of UM coverage in the policies themselves allowed for recovery, or, alternatively, if the loss caused by his son’s death was not covered by the policies, the UM statute nonetheless entitled them to UM coverage.

The court noted that the UM provisions in each of the policies required that, to be covered, the loss must be caused by an accident. The court concluded that young Davison’s murder was not an accident and therefore the loss was not covered by the UM protection in any of the four policies.

Timothy Davison asserted that a state statute required UM coverage to provide indemnification that the insured is “legally entitled” to recover from the operator of a hit-and-run vehicle, even if the underlying loss is not “caused by an accident”—a limitation created by the policies at issue. The defendants argued that the purpose of the UM statute was to mirror the scope of existing liability coverage, rather than to broaden the scope of covered losses.

Although Timothy Davison contended that the statute required UM coverage to extend to non-accidental losses for which the uninsured or hit-and-run vehicle operator would be liable, the court said that, in enacting that statute, the legislature intended to provide compensation to insureds when they sustain losses resulting from accidents. The fact that young Davison’s death was not the result of an accident did not require the insurers to compensate Timothy Davison to any extent further than that provided in the UM provisions of the policies.

The court noted that none of the policies would have provided liability coverage for a loss arising from the conduct at issue in the case. Each policy contained an exclusion for liability based on intentional acts. Because the assailant’s actions would not have been covered under the liability protections provided in the policies issued by York, Allstate, or Horace Mann, the loss arising from young Davison’s death was not covered by the UM provisions of those policies. Therefore the statute did not require the defendants to provide UM coverage for claims that arose from his death. The judgment of the lower court was affirmed.

Theresa L. Allocca et al. vs. York Insurance Company of Maine et al-Supreme Judicial Court of Maine-August 29, 2017-Cum 16-305.

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