Whether it’s on the internet or on TV, chances are you’ve seen one or more videos of the wild scenes that sometimes unfold when drivers decide to try to outrun the police in their vehicles. While these videos can be entertaining to watch, they are, as law enforcement officers will attest, incredibly dangerous to anyone in the chase’s path. So, what happens if you’re harmed by a driver who’s trying to escape officers? The range of people (and insurance companies) you can sue depends on many facts, including the way that the relevant insurance policies are written. In a recent Louisiana Court of Appeal decision arising from a Jefferson Parish incident, an injured woman could not pursue an auto owner’s insurer because of the exception language in that insurance policy.
- Read more about hit and run accidents.
The situation began when Exavier Gardner borrowed Brittany Husky’s Mercury Grand Marquis with her consent. Gardner was trying to navigate congested Jefferson Parish rush hour traffic while high on liquor, ecstasy, and marijuana when he spotted a police vehicle directly behind him. After Gardner committed several traffic violations, the police attempted to make a traffic stop. Since he had cocaine on him, Gardner decided to try to get away. The heavy traffic congestion made this plan nearly impossible, and, after hitting at least six cars, the Mercury came to a rest along the side of the road, and the frustrated driver fled on foot. Police caught him shortly thereafter.
The drivers of several of the struck vehicles filed claims against Safeway Insurance Co. of Louisiana, the company that insured Husky’s Mercury. Safeway declined to cover any of the damage caused by Gardner’s ill-fated excursion, determining that the policy on Husky’s car had a provision that “excluded coverage for damages caused by intentional and criminal acts.” The drivers and their insurers then took their case to court, where Safeway asked the trial court to issue a declaratory ruling that it was not liable. The trial judge denied this request, which led Safeway to appeal.
On appeal, Safeway won. The appeals court concluded that the case came down to the language in the Safeway policy and that the policy terms clearly excluded incidents like this one. The Safeway policy stated that several events were excluded from coverage, including damage that occurred while the vehicle was “being operated or used in the commission of a crime, other than a traffic violation.” The appeals court decided that Gardner’s actions during the accident in question met the definition of a “crime” such that the damage he inflicted fell under the commission-of-a-crime exclusion.
The trial court had ruled that the chase only occurred due to Gardner’s attempted avoidance of a stop the police initiated due to Gardner’s multiple traffic violations, meaning that the policy exclusion didn’t apply and that Safeway was potentially liable. However, the appeals court pointed out that what the trial court failed to address was the event that came immediately after the traffic violations: Gardner’s attempt to flee. By forcing cars off the road and hitting several cars in his escape attempt, Gardner committed aggravated flight from an officer. This was a crime under Louisiana law, and this criminal act was the cause of the damages that the other drivers suffered. Therefore, Safeway was permitted to decline coverage and entitled to judgment in its favor.
The appeals court also stated that, in Louisiana, public policy generally disapproves of insurance companies carving out exceptions to coverage because Louisiana policy favors “granting protection for injured persons,” but the ones like those Safeway placed in its policy were acceptable. Safeway’s commission-of-a-crime exception actually promoted a different Louisiana public policy, which was “prohibiting persons from insuring themselves against their own intentional or criminal acts.”
Pursuing compensation for the injuries you’ve suffered in an auto accident requires many steps. Evidence must be collected, and witnesses must be interviewed. Additionally, decisions must be made about which individuals or insurance companies should be sued. All of this requires prompt action and a keen knowledge of the law. The diligent and experienced Louisiana car accident attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm have a long track record of helping injured people and are here to discuss your case with you.
For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.
More Blog Posts:
Louisiana Appeals Court Upholds Judgment Despite Disagreement Among Witnesses Regarding Which Driver Ran Red Light, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, April 8, 2016
Mother’s Evidence Not Enough to Secure Damages Award for Children in Jefferson Parish Crash Case, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, April 4, 2016