Thursday, December 19, 2019

A Chain Reaction Accident: Was It One Accident or Two Accidents For Purposes of UIM Coverage?


In the case of Busby v. Steadfast Ins. Co., No. 2:19-CV-02225-HB (E.D. Pa. Oct. 31, 2019 Bartle, J.), the court addressed cross-motions for summary judgment in a post-Koken case involving claims for breach of contract and bad faith.

 One issue the Court faced was whether the Plaintiff was involved in one “accident” or two “accidents” when she was involved in two separate impacts in quick succession. The answer to this question would determine whether the Plaintiff was permitted to seek out additional UIM coverages under an argument that she was involved in two separate car accidents.

In its Opinion, the court noted that one of the policies at issue provided a definition of an “accident,” and the other did not. The court generally noted that, in the insurance context, the term “accident” is generally defined an unexpected and undesirable event occurring unintentionally.

Judge Bartle reviewed two different competing approaches used by the courts to determine the number of accidents for purposes of insurance coverage: the “cause” approach and the “effects” approach. The court noted that, in Pennsylvania, as in a majority of jurisdiction, the “cause” approach has been adopted.

Under the cause approach, the general rule is that an occurrence is determined by the cause or causes of the resulting injury. Under this analysis, the court determines if there was but one proximate, uninterrupted, and continuing cause which resulted in all of the injuries and damages alleged by the Plaintiff.

The court noted that, if the cause and the result are so simultaneous or so closely linked in time and space as to be considered by the average person as one event, the courts adopting the “cause” analysis have uniformly held that such an accident involves a single occurrence or accident.

In this matter, the Plaintiff was a passenger in a back seat of an automobile driven by another person that the Plaintiff had hired as a Lyft driver. As that vehicle was traveling eastbound on the Schuylkill Expressway in the left hand lane, the traffic came to a stop. The driver of the Lyft vehicle rear-ended the vehicle that was stopped in front of him in traffic.

Moments after the Lyft driver hit the car in front of him, another vehicle collided with the rear of the vehicle in which the Plaintiff was located as a passenger.

The court noted that the vehicle that the Lyft operator was driving was equipped with an event data recorder, which recorded “two separate events.” That data also established that approximately only one second had passed between the two crashes.

The court also stated that evidence was presented as to the delta forces of impact applied to the Plaintiff with respect to each of the accidents. The delta force numbers were different with regards to both accidents.

Judge Bartle also noted that the Plaintiff’s treating doctors had attributed her injuries to “the incident” or “the accident.” It was additionally noted that the Plaintiff’s medical providers did not offer any opinions as to which injuries were caused by which accident.

Applying the “cause” approach under Pennsylvania law, the court in this Busby case found that there was two independent actors who caused two separate collisions. The court also noted that, while the time between the two crashes was only one second, that was enough time for the Plaintiff to be thrown forward as a result of the Lyft crash and then again a second time as a result of the subsequent rear-end accident.

The court also noted that, even if the Lyft driver had not rear-ended the vehicle ahead, the evidence confirmed that the Lyft vehicle still would have been rear-ended by the other vehicle. Accordingly, the court noted that the crash caused by the Lyft driver rear-ending the vehicle ahead was not the proximate cause of the rear-end crash to the back of the Lyft vehicle.

Therefore, the court in Busby found that the two crashes did not involve one continuing and uninterrupted cause.

Judge Bartle distinguished the facts of this case from a typical chain reaction motor vehicle accident crash where the last car hits the car in front of it which then hits the car in front of it as a result of the first impact. In such a different scenario of a “domino” type of chain reaction accident, the court noted that that separate situation could be viewed as one accident under the policy language at issue in this case.

Based upon its analysis, the Eastern District Federal Court predicted that, if faced with the issue, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court would rule that, under the facts presented in this case, two accidents took place.

 As such, the court granted the Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in this matter and found that she was involved in two accidents for purposes of the potential insurance coverages. The motions of the insurance company Defendants seeking a finding that only one accident took place were denied.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK. The compantion order can be viewed HERE.



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