Most of the time, there is no dispute between an insurance company and its insured motorists on whether an accident occurred. However, a recent decision in the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit answered the question on whether a truck hitting two vehicles in succession was one or two accidents.

This is an important question for insurance purposes given the way insurance policy limits work. Typically, insurance companies are only required to cover the cost of an accident up to the limits prescribed by the policy. However, these policy limits are typically per accident. In other words, if striking two vehicles in succession qualifies as two accidents, the insurance company is potentially on the hook for twice as much money.

Grange Mutual v. Slaughter, et al.

The case that answered this question in the 11th Circuit arose out of the Northern District of Georgia. The court decided Grange Mutual Casualty Company v. Terri Slaughter, et al. on May 1, 2020. This case is an appeal of a lawsuit filed in the Northern District of Georgia in 2016.

In October of 2015, a truck driver crossed over the center line of a highway in Georgia and struck two vehicles in quick succession. The facts of the case established that there was no corrective action taken after the first collision but prior to the second.

Grange Mutual was the insurer of the truck in question. In 2016, they filed a lawsuit in federal court in an effort to determine their obligations under the insurance policy. The primary question was whether or not the two collisions constituted one or two accidents under the language of the policy.

Decision at the Trial Level

In its decision, the trial court held that the collisions only constituted one accident. This decision was made after the Georgia Supreme Court adopted the so-called “cause theory.” Under this theory, the court found that a single accident involves “continuous or repeated exposure to the same conditions resulting in bodily injury or property damage.”

The defendants in Grange v. Slaughter appealed the trial courts order. They argued that the terms of the insurance policy defined an accident differently. The defense pointed to language in the policy that suggested two collisions constituted two accidents, even if they only happened a second apart.

The court was not swayed and found the language of the policy was unclear, requiring the court to ultimately define the phrase “accident.” Additionally, the court pointed out that the policy mentioned that multiple vehicles could be involved in the same accident. The court reasoned that following the defendant’s definition of accident would conflict with this language.

The Appellate Decision

Ultimately, the appellate court sided with the trial court. They agreed that the language of the insurance policy was unclear, requiring the court to define what constitutes an accident. The 11th Circuit also relied on the “cause theory” as prescribed by Georgia law. It found that because the truck driver did not regain control of the vehicle between the first and second collision, both crashes were part of one uninterrupted and extended cause.

Let Williams Elleby Handle Your Claim

It is important to note that this disagreement ultimately boiled down to the language of the insurance policy. The Georgia personal injury lawyers at Williams Elleby will work tirelessly to ensure your insurer holds up their end of the deal following an accident. Contact us online to schedule a free consultation or call 833-LEGALGA (833-534-2542) to discuss your case right away.

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