An accident happens. A loss is incurred. A lawsuit is filed. You say “no problem I got insurance to protect me”. Well, do you?
The Texas Court of Appeals in Houston recently discussed this question in the case, Accufleet, Inc. v. Hartford Fire Insurance Company. This case involved a discussion of the definition of “auto”. Accufleet is an aviation support business. In January 2003, a ground tug, transporting luggage, rear ended another vehicle causing injuries. When a lawsuit was filed, Hartford denied coverage arguing that the ground tug was not an auto.
The Court in this case, got into a discussion of how to determine whether or not the language of the insurance policy requires the insurance company to defend its insured in a lawsuit and pay on a claim or whether it can get away with refusing to do so. The court draws two distinctions. One, is what does the policy language say as far as its duty to pay, if liable. Two, how is this different from the duty to defend in a lawsuit.
The plain language of an insurance policy, like that of any other contract, must be given effect when the parties’ intent may be discerned from the plain language used in the policy. If the policy language has only one reasonable interpretation, then it is not ambiguous and the court decides it as a matter of law. If the contract is susceptible to two or more reasonable interpretations, then it is ambiguous and the uncertainty is resolved by adopting a reading that favors the insured as long as that construction is not unreasonable.
The duty to defend is distinct from, and broader than, the duty to pay. An insurance company must defend its customer if the lawsuits factual allegations “potentially” support a covered claim. So even though the facts may not play out in such a way as to require payment on the claim, the allegations themselves are what trigger whether or not the insurance company must hire attorneys and defend the claim.
The previous two paragraphs are what is known as the “eight corners rule”. The first four corners are the pages of the contract or policy and the language with-in the four corners of that document. The second four corners are the pleading used in the lawsuit. Do the allegations used as the facts made the basis of the lawsuit, give notice that if the lawsuit is successful, the claim will have to be paid by the insurance company. If the answer is yes, then the duty to defend the lawsuit is placed on the insurance company. The general rule being that the insurance company is obligated to defend the lawsuit if there is, potentially, a case under the complaint within the coverage of the policy.
All of this can be very confusing. If you are an individual or company in Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Weatherford, or any of the surrounding cities or counties and your insurance companys’ actions cause you to wonder if you are being treated right then you need to consult with an Insurance Law Attorney. Don’t just sit back and take the insurance adjusters word. Get another opinion from someone who is willing to be on your side. Call the Law Firm of Mark Humphreys.