Archive for March, 2010

Supreme Court of Georgia Adopts Definition of “Accident” Advocated by Insurance Companies

In State Auto Property and Cas. Co. v. Matty, 2010 WL 678946 (Ga. Mar. 1, 2010), the Georgia Supreme Court answered a certified question from a United States District Court “about how to determine the meaning of the term ‘accident’ in an automobile liability insurance policy when the word is not expressly defined in the policy and, more specifically, how to determine if there has been one accident or two when an insured vehicle strikes one claimant and then very shortly thereafter strikes another.”  In answering this question, the Georgia Supreme Court adopted the “cause” theory to aid in the construction of the word “accident.”  The “cause” theory is the clear majority rule and provides that the number of accidents is determined by the number of causes of injuries.

The decision originates from an automobile accident in which the insured driver struck a bicyclist, killing him.  Approximately one second later, the driver’s vehicle struck a second bicyclist, seriously injuring him.  The driver’s insurance policy contained a bodily injury liability limit of $100,000 for “each accident.”  The policy also provided that this amount was the “maximum limit of liability for all damages resulting from any one auto accident,” regardless of the number of “[c]laims made” or “vehicles involved in the auto accident.”  However, the policy did not define “accident” or “any one auto accident.”  The plaintiffs contended that there were two accidents and that they were entitled to two payments of the $100,000 limit, whereas the insurer argued that the incident constituted one accident and that it was responsible for providing only a single limit of $100,000 regardless of the number of claimants.

According to the “cause” theory, if “[t]here was but one proximate, uninterrupted, and continuing cause which resulted in all of the injuries and damage,” then only one “accident” has occurred.  In the context of automobile accidents involving multiple non-simultaneous collisions, “courts look to whether, after the cause of the initial collision, the driver regained control of the vehicle before a subsequent collision, so that it can be said there was a second intervening cause and, therefore, a second accident.”

Accordingly, the Georgia Supreme Court found that the insurance policy at issue contemplated that there could be a single accident in which there were multiple vehicles, injured parties, and claims.  Having clarified the legal issue that the district court found uncertain, the Georgia Supreme Court left it to the district court to decide whether there had been but one cause which resulted in all of the injuries and damages.

For more information, please contact Timothy Buckley III, Esq. at (404) 633-9230.

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