INSURANCE-RELATED COURT CASES
Digested from case reports published online
Shooter on the run
Jimi Redman shot and killed Lynn Harrison with a rifle while both were in their vehicles at a stoplight. Immediately before the shooting, Redman, who was driving a Ford Escape, approached Harrison’s GMC in the lane to her right. A witness, who was directly behind Harrison in the left lane, saw Redman make hand gestures and blow kisses toward Harrison. There is no evidence that Harrison attempted to evade Redman or that she even saw his gestures. Instead, as the two vehicles stopped at the red light, Redman pulled out a rifle and fired one shot that traveled through Harrison’s passenger side window, killing her. Redman subsequently sped away while Harrison’s vehicle, which was still in drive, crept forward until coming to a rest in the median. Redman was arrested a few blocks away.
Harrison was insured through her husband’s motorcycle policy issued by Progressive Direct Insurance Company and an automobile policy issued by USAA General Indemnity Company. The Progressive policy provided:
If you pay the premium for this coverage, we will pay for damages that an insured person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of:
an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury:(a) sustained by an insured person;(b) caused by an accident; and(c) arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an uninsured motor vehicle[.]
The USAA policy stated:
We will pay for the following damages which a covered person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of an auto accident:
[bodily injury] sustained by a covered person; and injury to or destruction of the property of a covered person.
The owner’s or operator’s liability for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the uninsured motor vehicle.
Progressive filed a complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that there was no coverage because Harrison’s injuries did not arise out of the use of Redman’s motor vehicle. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment, and the circuit court held a hearing. Progressive contended that Harrison’s injuries were not causally connected to the use of Redman’s vehicle. Further, it contended that gunshot injuries are not foreseeably identifiable with the normal use of a vehicle.
Shanna Groves, as personal representative of the estate of Lynn Harrison, contended that Redman pursued Harrison before shooting her, thus establishing a causal connection. The circuit court disagreed, concluding that Groves failed to demonstrate that Harrison’s injuries were causally connected to the use of Redman’s vehicle. Additionally, the court determined that her injuries were not “foreseeably identifiable with the use of an automobile” and, even if they were, firing the rifle constituted an act of independent significance that otherwise broke the causal chain.
Groves appealed, and the court of appeals reversed. Progressive filed for a writ of certiorari (a formal request for the state supreme court to hear the case), which the Supreme Court of South Carolina granted.
This case turns to whether Harrison’s injuries arose out of the “use” of an un-insured vehicle. Progressive contended that the court of appeals erred in finding a causal connection between Harrison’s fatal injuries and the use of Redman’s motor vehicle. Specifically, it asserted that Groves could not show that Redman’s vehicle was an “active accessory” to Harrison’s injuries or, more broadly, that gunshot injuries are “foreseeably identifiable with the normal use of [an] automobile.”
The Supreme Court of South Carolina held that Groves could not establish that Harrison’s injuries arose out of the use of Redman’s vehicle. The court reversed the court of appeals’ decision and reinstated the circuit court’s order granting Progressive’s motion for summary judgment.
Progressive Direct Insurance Company and USAA General Indemnity Company v. Groves—South Carolina Supreme Court—No. 28115—September 21, 2022.