On June 10, 2004, plaintiff was severely injured when a vehicle operated by defendant crossed the double-yellow line and struck his car head on, causing both cars to roll and become total losses. The plaintiff’s vehicle was insured by Proformance Insurance Co. (“Proformance”), while the Defendant’s vehicle was insured by New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co. (“NJM”).
Defendant’s policy with NJM policy obligated the insurer, in pertinent part, to “pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which any insured becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident [but] . . . [w]e have no duty to defend any suit or settle any claim for bodily injury or property damage not covered under this policy.” The policy excluded liability coverage for any insured “[w]ho intentionally causes bodily injury or property damage.”
It appears that the defendant told the responding police officer that “after he viewed [plaintiff’s] a vehicle traveling toward him in the opposite lane, he let go of the steering wheel and his vehicle traveled into the oncoming lane, striking the plaintiff’s vehicle head on”. When asked by the trooper why he had let go of the wheel, the defendant responded that he “wanted to hit the other vehicle,” and when asked the reason, Thomas said he “wanted to end it all.” Accordingly, the trooper classified the accident as an attempted suicide. Thus, NJM declined coverage based on the policy exclusion for any insured “[w]ho intentionally causes bodily injury or property damage”.
Plaintiff’s insurer, Proformance, filed a declaratory action against NJM and defendant seeking a ruling that NJM had wrongfully disclaimed coverage to defendant, and was obligated to defend or indemnify its insureds.
The court found that Proformance failed to show that the language of NJM’s exclusion would fairly support more than one meaning and, therefore, the plain language of the policy should apply. In this case it is undisputed that Thomas was speeding and he let go of the wheel after seeing Hammer’s vehicle approaching in the opposite direction. Hammer’s injury was an “inherently probable consequence” of Thomas’ conduct. The court found that the record sufficiently demonstrated Thomas’ subjective intent to cause some degree of injury. Thus, the court’s decision upholding NJM’s declination of coverage was affirmed.
Thanks to Sheila Osei for her contribution to this post.