Andrew Traub

Did Driver's Knowing Risk Void Policy?

A criminal flees the police at speeds topping 100 mph, crosses into oncoming traffic and smashes into a car. Sounds like a nightmare? It gets worse. His insurance company doesn’t want to pay up on his $300,000 auto insurance policy.

The Texas Supreme Court will soon decide who deserves the law’s protection – the family whose car was in the wrong place at the wrong time (the 1999 wreck left 7-year old Roney Tanner comatose for a week, in the hospital for a month and in physical therapy for five years) or an insurance company (Nationwide) with a reckless and irresponsible client.

Nationwide has taken the position that the fleeing driver (Richard Gibbons) violated his insurance contract by leading police on a wild chase all but guaranteed to end in a horrific wreck, relying on a starndard “intentional acts exclusion” clause to void coverage – and two courts have agreed with them so far. Welcome to Texas where the insurance companies rarely pay for their insured’s mistakes.

Nationwide argues that Gibbons ought to have known that disregarding stop signs, traffic signals and lane markings during a protracted high-speed police chase would eventually lead to the type of accident that critically injured Roney Tanner.

But Don Cotton, the Tanners’ lawyer, said the accident was not inevitable. ,
The most dangerous parts of the chase were over by the time Gibbons hit the Tanners on lightly traveled roads surrounded by farmland, he said.

Significantly, Cotton said, pursuing police officers noted that Gibbons slammed on his brakes in an attempt to avoid hitting the Tanners’ 17-year old Honda Accord with his Ford F-350.

“It is nonsensical to say that somebody intentionally caused harm when the only evidence in the record is that he was trying to avoid causing that harm,” Cotton told the nine justices. “The test is not reckless (acts). The test is ‘intentional.’ ”

If this isn’t a good reason not to carry Nationwide insurance than I don’t know what is. It’s also all the more reason (as I always say) to carry high uninsured/under-insured coverage.

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