Thursday, May 8, 2008

20 Heifers, 1 Road, 2 Cars, 3 Occupants & 2 Collisions -- How Many "Occurrences"?

I'm heading to Rochester this morning for a conference on a case in which my office represents a farm insurer. DJ action is pending and our motion for summary judgment is ready to be filed and served. Facts from our memorandum of law are:
On May 1, 2003 at 10:46 p.m. a group of between 10-20 heifers was located in a roadway known as State Highway Route 39 ("Route 39") in close proximity to the boundaries of Wyoming and Livingston Counties in New York State. On that date and time two automobiles traveling in opposite directions on Route 39 collided with some of the cows in the roadway. One was driven by Eric who was the sole occupant of the vehicle. The other was driven by Jessica. Shane was a passenger in her vehicle. The Livingston County Sheriff's Department investigated. Although the Deputy Sheriff conducting the investigation completed two accident reports of the event, the reports described the two accidents as occurring at the exact same time and at the same location. The only difference in describing the two accidents on the reports was that Jessica's vehicle struck a cow while traveling eastbound and Eric's vehicle struck cows as it was traveling westbound.
Sounds like a law school final exam question, don't it? Policy has a $200,000 per occurrence liability coverage limit and there are two injured plaintiffs in underlying actions. How many occurrences? Hint: New York courts utilize an "unfortunate event" test and look at the cause of the accident, not merely the effects.

Who says that insurance coverage law isn't interesting?

Post Script: I'm back. The two underlying personal injury actions settled. My insurer client paid only one limit ($200K). All counsel at the conference but one agreed with me that there was only one "occurrence". Strong case law support for this in New York. Won't have to file that motion now. Good result. Right result.


Heidi (aka Farmer's Daughter" said...

I think it's two "occurrences". Let me know how you make out on this one.

Heidi said...

Good to know. Thanks.

Roy A. Mura said...

You're welcome. I left out the parts about the 1 barn, 1 late night, violent T-storm, 1 or more wild animals seeking shelter from the storm in the heifers' barn (speculation), 1 stampede, and 2 blown-through electric fences. Interesting fact pattern for a coverage case. We'll talk about it at the seminar in September.