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Law Update

Injury Ultimately Resulting From Series of Unexpected Events
Following Actions Of Unidentified Driver
Was Compensable Under Uninsured Motorist Policy
Hartley v. Electric Insurance Company, No. 2005-903 (January 17, 2007)

Facts:   Hartley was driving a truck when an unidentified vehicle failed to yield the right of way, forcing him to “jam on his brakes.” This sudden action caused the straps holding a box saw in his truck to break and the saw to shift.

Believing he had been struck from behind, Hartley stopped his truck, and saw that his saw had shifted so that it was leaning over the gate of his truck. He then pulled the truck to the side of the road to reposition the saw. He then observed gasoline pouring from the saw onto the road. Hartley was injured while attempting to resecure the saw, but the Supreme Court opinion does not specify what injury he sustained. 

Hartley filed a claim for uninsured motorist benefits under his policy with Electric Insurance Company (EIC). The policy provided that EIC “will pay compensatory damages which an ‘insured’ is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of ‘an uninsured motor vehicle’ because of ‘bodily injury’ …caused by an accident.”

The parties agreed that an “accident” occurred when the phantom vehicle failed to yield the right of way, causing Hartley to jam on his breaks and veer to avoid striking the vehicle. However, the trial court ruled that Hartley was not injured as a result of an accident because his intentional act of attempting to reposition the saw broke the chain of causation. Hartley appealed.                           

Held:     Reversed and remanded. 

The issue before the Court was whether Hartley suffered an injury caused by an accident entitling him to coverage under the policy.

An “accident” has been defined as “an undersigned contingency…a happening by chance, something out of the usual course of things, unusual, fortuitous, not anticipated, and not naturally to be expected.” Here, the actions of the unidentified driver resulted in a series of unexpected events that ultimately resulted in the plaintiff’s injury. The question was whether the causal relationship between the injury and the conduct of the unidentified driver was sufficient to enable it to conclude that the insured was entitled to coverage under the policy.

Whether policy language requiring “injury caused by an accident” requires that the accident be a direct proximate cause of the injury had not yet been decided. The Court concluded that a tenuous connection is not sufficient, but that proximate causation is not required in order to establish coverage.

In this case, the saw’s shift in position was caused by the actions of the unidentified driver resulting in a series of events that culminated in plaintiff’s injury. This causal connection was sufficient to trigger coverage under the policy.


Mike Wallenius




Attorneys at Law

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