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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



January 25
08:41 2021


Grover Bragg owned a truck that was insured by State Farm Fire & Casualty Company. In the early morning of March 13, 2013, Bragg used his truck to transport an intoxicated and delusional friend away from Bragg’s home. Bragg’s friend jumped out of the truck while it was moving. Bragg pulled over but did not exit his truck. Bragg’s friend then broke into a house owned by Dawn Haskell and Martin Witham and caused serious damage to windows and other property. At one point he got into the bed of Bragg’s truck, but he left again and reentered Haskell and Witham’s house. When Witham attempted to restrain him, he assaulted Witham and injured him.

Regarding coverage for liability to others, Bragg’s policy stated:

We will pay damages an insured becomes legally liable to pay because of:

a. bodily injury to others; and

b. damage to property

caused by an accident that involves a vehicle for which that insured is provided Liability Coverage by this policy.

In April 2014, Bragg was served with Haskell and Witham’s complaint alleging Bragg’s negligence, among other claims that they brought against Bragg’s friend and others. Bragg did not file a timely answer, and a default judgment was entered against him in June 2014. By March 2015, State Farm had received the complaint, and in 2016 it retained counsel to represent Bragg, admitting that it had the duty to defend. Bragg, through counsel, filed an answer but did not move to set aside the entry of default.

At a hearing on damages, Bragg raised arguments and offered evidence about the extent of damages attributable to him. The court concluded that Bragg and his friend were jointly and severally liable to Haskell and Witham and awarded damages in the amount of $428,071.64. Bragg’s negligence was based on findings that, worried about the safety of people in his home and possible property damage, Bragg took his intoxicated and delusional friend for a drive rather than calling the authorities, and followed his friend’s directions in going down the road where Haskell and Witham lived. Based on the default, the court accepted as true the allegations that Bragg was aware of and assisted his friend in becoming intoxicated before driving his friend away from his home. The appellate court affirmed that judgment on appeal.

Haskell and Witham then commenced an action seeking to reach and apply Bragg’s policy and obtain a declaratory judgment that the coverage applied to their damages. State Farm moved for summary judgment, and Haskell and Witham filed a cross-motion for summary judgment.

The court entered summary judgment in favor of State Farm and denied Haskell and Witham’s motion for summary judgment. The court reasoned that, although State Farm was bound by the judgment that found Bragg liable to Haskell and Witham, State Farm could argue that the conduct for which Bragg was held liable was not covered by the policy. The court concluded that the damages payable to Haskell and Witham were not damages that Bragg became liable to pay because of “an accident that involve[d]” a vehicle covered by the State Farm policy and that the damages did not arise out of Bragg’s use of the vehicle. Haskell and Witham appealed.

Consistent with previous interpretations of analogous policy terms, the state supreme judicial court concluded that the conduct that occurred when Bragg’s friend exited the vehicle and inflicted property damage, and personal injuries did not involve the vehicle within the plain meaning of the policy.

The court found no reasonable connection between the use of the vehicle and the injuries suffered by Haskell and Witham. All of the acts that caused damages occurred while Bragg’s passenger was outside of the vehicle. Because the facts did not bring Haskell and Witham’s damages within the policy’s coverage, the court affirmed the judgment entered by the superior court.

Haskell v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company—Supreme Judicial Court of Maine—June 11, 2020—No. Wal-19-401.

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