Denying Insurance Coverage for Defense Against Wrongful Death Claims in West Virginia – Allstate v. Brady

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Automobile insurance policies generally cover a wide array of accidents and incidents that may occur while an individual is in a vehicle.  They can cover injuries or damages that result to the driver and passenger of the vehicle that is insured, or the injuries of another individual or driver caused by the malfunction of the vehicle or the negligence of the driver who is covered.  What is less well known is that, in some instances, auto insurance policies even provide coverage for the defense of claims arising out of an automobile accident.  Plaintiffs asserting claims against defendants arising from automobile accidents must be careful to consider whether insurance companies may play a role in finding counsel for a defendant, or if reimbursement for litigation expenses from insurance could have an impact on a defendant’s willingness to settle.

One recent case to look at the scope of litigation defense insurance is Allstate Insurance v. Brady.  In this case, Allstate Insurance sought a declaratory judgment from the Northern District of West Virginia that it was not required to pay for the defense of defendants who killed another individual while using an Allstate insured vehicle.  In that case, Jody Hunt shot and killed two individuals, Jody Taylor and Douglas Brady, after a dispute.  In order to commit the crime, she drove to Brady’s place of business in a truck that was insured by Allstate. She then drove to Taylor’s home, where she shot him while she was sitting in the truck.  The personal representative of Brady and Taylor’s estates later filed wrongful death actions against Hunt, and Allstate sought to determine whether it was required to defend Hunt against these wrongful death claims.

Hunt’s insurance policy had provided that if she were involved in a legal dispute related to her use of the car, Allstate would “protect an insured person from liability for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use, loading or unloading of an insured auto.”  Hunt’s Allstate policy further guaranteed that it would defend her from claims such as negligence, even if such claims were groundless.  However, the policy explicitly contained an exception stating that it would not defend an insured from personal injury lawsuits based on “intentional” acts by the insured person.

Here, Allstate argued that the wrongful death claims that Hunt faced did not arise out of the “ownership, maintenance or use” of her vehicle and that, even if they did, her actions were intentional, rather than negligent, and thus fell outside the scope of the coverage.  The Northern District agreed, granting Allstate summary judgment and concluding that it had no obligation to defend Hunt.  The Northern District noted that Hunt’s use of the vehicle was incidental to the shootings, since she merely used her truck as a means of transport. Furthermore, the use of the vehicle in no way caused the injuries that Brady and Taylor experienced. Accordingly, the court determined that the wrongful death claims were not “reasonably related” to the use of the vehicle.  Also, the Northern District held that Hunt’s actions were clearly intentional, for there was no accidental or negligent discharging of a firearm.  Since the wrongful death claims were premised on an intentional act, they fell within the exclusion clause of Allstate’s policy.

If you are a plaintiff seeking compensation for personal injuries you incurred in an accident, it is important that you request copies of a defendant’s insurance policies to determine what may, or may not, be covered and the role an insurer may play in your case. At Wolfe Law Firm, our West Virginia wrongful death lawyers have the strategic skills to evaluate the impact of insurance coverage in your lawsuit and effectively advocate on your behalf in the courtroom. Located in Elkins, West Virginia, the firm represents clients in a wide range of injury, criminal defense, and bankruptcy matters. Call us at 1-877-637-5756 or contact us online for a free consultation.

Related blog posts:

Multiple Avenues for Personal Injury Relief – Spangler v. McQuitty

Evidence, Discovery In West Virginia Car Crash Cases – Dietz v. Pilot Travel Centers

Punitive Damages in Wrongful Death and Negligence Cases – Shulin v. Werner Enterprises