California Court Limits Insurance Coverage When One Collision Was Proximately Caused by Two Negligent Acts

In an opinion regarding the definition of “accident” under an automobile insurance policy, the California Court of Appeal held that two negligent acts that proximately cause one accident are considered one accident for insurance policy purposes. The court relied upon common sense and the reasoning that if a time lapse existed between proximate causes of car accidents, there would be no limit to an insurance company’s liability.

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Mercury Casualty Company sought a judicial determination that their policy’s limit of liability for bodily injury applied to Monique Jones’ claim for bodily injury coverage under the policy. The trial court granted Mercury’s summary judgment motion, and Ms. Jones appealed.

The facts demonstrate that Mercury Insurance issued a coverage policy to Kari Amaya, with bodily injury liability limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident.  The insured driver was listed as Ashley Amaya.

While Carla Hurtado was driving Kari Amaya’s vehicle, and Monique Jones was a passenger, one of the car tires blew out.  Ms. Hurtado unsafely turned the car, and it rolled over. Ms. Jones argued that two “incidents” led to the accident.  First, Ms. Hurtado negligently drove at an unsafe speed and turned when the tire blew out. Second, Kari failed to properly maintain the tires on her vehicle.  Ms. Jones suffered injuries and incurred over $200,000 in medical bills.

Ms. Jones contended that California law determines the number of accidents by the “causation test,” which looks at whether the underlying cause of an injury was a single course of conduct or was interrupted by another cause. She argued that the facts show there were two separate accidents.

While Ms. Jones acknowledged there was a single crash as commonly understood, she contended that insurance law defines “accident” differently, and there were two accidents as related to Mercury’s liability limits. One accident took place when Kari Amaya did not replace the bald tire, and the other occurred when Mrs. Hurtado negligently drove the vehicle. Mercury contended that, while there were two separate negligent acts, only one accident occurred.

The court rejected Ms. Jones’ argument that there were two accidents.  They stated that Mercury is obligated to pay when there is a bodily injury sustained by a person. Here, the causes of the accident were concurrent and therefore not interrupted by another cause.

The time frame at issue defies the argument that there were separate accidents. The court stated that failing to replace the tire could not be an “accident” because it occurred long before the single crash here.  If negligent acts that contributed to  a crash were separate accidents, there would be no limits to an insurance company’s liability. The concurrent causes of the accident here were the negligent failure to maintain the tires and Ms. Hurtado’s negligent driving. This resulted in a single accident.

The appellate court affirmed the judgment of the lower court in favor of Mercury.

At Sharifi Firm, our car accident attorneys diligently represent clients seeking compensation from insurance companies. Call us today for a free consultation at 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

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California Appeals Court Remands for New Trial in Car Accident Case Involving Issues of Credibility, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, August 17 2015

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