7/10/2019Federal Court Blasts Insurance Attempt To Avoid DUI Liability
Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals ruled denies insurance company attempt to evade liability by claiming drunk driving accidents are not accidents.
Accidents involving drunk drivers are just that -- accidents -- according to a ruling last week by the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel rejected as absurd an attempt by an insurance company to evade financial liability by arguing otherwise.
"Only an insurance company could come up with the policy interpretation advanced here," Judge James C. Ho wrote for the panel. "Cincinnati Insurance Company theorizes that its automobile policies do not cover injuries caused by drunk driving collisions, because such collisions are not 'accidents.' Its logic is this: intentional acts are not accidents, and drunk drivers make the intentional choice to drink and then drive."
Carlos Xavier Sanchez was drunk when he got behind the wheel of his Advantage Plumbing Services work truck on September 14, 2014, in San Antonio, Texas. He subsequently slammed into the car driven by Richard Brett Frederking who was making a legal left turn into Roosevelt Avenue. A jury ordered the plumbing company and Sanchez to pay the victim $137,025 in compensation for the serious injuries he suffered and $207,550 in "exemplary damages" for negligence in hiring an unlicensed driver. Cincinnati Insurance refused to pay the latter amount, forcing Frederking to sue.
The Cincinnati Insurance policy states it covers up to $1 million in damages from "accidents" that produce injuries. The appellate judges noted that if they accepted the company's theory about the meaning of 'accident,' Cincinnati Insurance would pay out far less in compensation in cases that had nothing to do with driving under the influence (DUI).
"As counsel acknowledged during oral argument, a collision caused by texting while driving would also not be an accident," Judge Ho explained. "A collision caused by eating while driving would not be an accident. And a collision caused by doing makeup while driving would not be an accident. In each of these scenarios, after all, a driver has made an intentional decision that contributes to an accident."
The ruling was a rebuke to US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, who sided with Cincinnati Insurance and its interpretation of accident, forcing Frederking to appeal.
"This is implausible on its face," the appellate judges concluded. "Indeed, it would defeat the widely held expectations of the countless insureds who purchase automobile insurance precisely to protect against these kinds of 'accidents.' In sum, we have no difficulty concluding that drunk driving collisions are indeed 'accidents,' as a matter of common parlance as well as proper policy interpretation."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.