Auto Coverage In Texas And Gun Racks

What if you are a “good ole boy” in Weatherford, Texas? Or for that matter, in Arlington, Grand Prairie, Fort Worth, or Dallas, and you have a gun rack in your vehicle. In the gun rack you have a loaded firearm. Next, the firearm is accidently discharged. Will your insurance company cover the resulting damages to others? The answer is a lawyerly answer for you: It depends.
Here is an interesting case issued by the Texas Supreme Court. This case discusses how the facts should be analysed to see if coverge will exist. The case, decided in 1999, is styled, Mid-Century Insurance Company of Texas, a division of The Farmers Insurance Group of Companies, v. Richard Tanner. The cite is, 997 S.W.2d 153.
The question for the court to decide in this case was whether the underinsured motorist provision of a standard Texas personal auto policy covers the insured’s bodily injuries resulting from the unintentional discharge of a shotgun on a gun rack in a pickup truck parked nearby. The answer, in this case, depended on whether, within the meaning of the policy, the injuries resulted from “an accident” “arising out of” the “use” of the truck.
The facts: Richard Metzer and his wife had been fishing with their nine year old son when the boy returned to their pickup to get his coveralls. The truck was locked and the boy climbed into the bed of the truck and attempted to enter the cab through the truck’s sliding rear window. In doing this, he accidentally touched a loaded shotgun in the gun rack, in the rear window, causing the gun to discharge. The buckshot struck Richard Lindsey, who was seated in his mother’s car parked next to the pickup. Lindsey sued Metzer and recovered the policy limits, which was far less than the total of his damages. He then claimed the underinsured policy limits from his mothers policy which was issued by Mid-Century. Mid-Century denied the claim. Lindsey sued.
The Mid-Century policy states:
We will pay damages which a covered person is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of an uninsured (or underinsured) motor vehicle because of bodily injury sustained by a covered person, …
The owner’s or operator’s liability for these damages must arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the uninsured (or underinsured) motor vehicle.
The sole dispute was over whether Lindsey’s injuries were caused by, 1) an accident, 2) arising out of the use of Metzer’s truck.
The court discussed the definition of an accident then ultimately stated, Metzer’s son intended only to gain entry to the truck. He did not intend to cause the shotgun to discharge or Linsey to be injured, nor was it reasonably foreseeable that either consequence would result from the boy’s trying to enter the pickup through the rear window. Metzer’s son was not playing with the gun or acting recklessly. There is no evidence that he even knew it was loaded. His injuring Lindsey was an accident.
The next issue was whether this accident arose out of the use of the pickup. For liability to “arise out of” the pickup, a casual connection or relation must exist between the accident and the use of the motor vehicle. The court stated; “Whether a person is using a vehicle as a vehicle depends not only on his conduct but on his intent.”
The court next got into a discussion using well established legal treatises on insurance law. One was, Couch on Insurance. The other was, Appleman’s Insurance Law and Practice. Using these treatises they found numerous cases throughout the country using the following test for determining whether an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle for purposes of auto liability insurance coverage:
For an injury to fall within the “use” coverage of an automobile policy (1) the accident must have arisen out of the inherent nature of the automobile, as such, (2) the accident must have arisen within the natural territorial limits of an automobile, and the actual use must not have terminated, (3) the automobile must not merely contribute to cause the condition which produces the injury, but must itself produce the injury.
There was much further discussion on the above and what other courts in other states have decided. Applying all these considerations to the facts in this case the court concluded that Lindsey’s injuries arose out of the use of the Metzer truck as a matter of law.
There are actually a lot of cases discussing what is covered and what is not covered. An experienced Insurance Law Attorney is familiar with these cases. He would be able to disuss these cases and give advice on whether the facts in any particular situation would be covered by insurance.