What Is Not An Accident?

Grand Prairie insurance attorneys and those in Fort Worth, Dallas, North Richland Hills, Bedford, Hurst, Grapevine, and other places in Texas will find unusual claims being made every once and a while. Here is one that seems kind of strange.
The case is an opinion issued in 1997, by the Texas Supreme Court. The style of the case is, Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Company v. Robert Griffin.
This was a declaratory judgment action. Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Company sought a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify its insured, James Royal III, in a suit brought by Robert Griffin. The trial court granted summary judgment for Farmers. The court of appeals reversed, holding that Farmers had a duty to defend Royal but not to indemnify him. This Court holds that, under the facts alleged against Royal, Farmers has no duty to defend Royal in the underlying suit. The Court further held that Farmers’ duty to indemnify Royal constituted a justiciable controversy properly reached and decided by the trial court. Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment for Farmers.
After issuing its original opinion, the Court recognized an issue regarding the justiciability of the duty to indemnify.
On October 22, 1991, gunshots from a passing vehicle hit and injured Robert Griffin as he walked down the street in Beaumont, Texas. Griffin sued the driver of the vehicle, James Royal III, and others for negligence and gross negligence resulting in injury to his right leg. Griffin alleged that Royal drove the vehicle while his two passengers fired the shots. Royal invoked Farmers’ duty to defend him under his personal automobile liability insurance policy. Farmers defended Royal subject to a reservation of rights and then filed this declaratory judgment action to challenge its duty to defend and indemnify Royal. The record showed that the suit between Griffin and Royal remained pending.
The Farmers’ policy provided that Farmers “will pay damages for bodily injury or property damage for which any covered person becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident. … We will settle or defend, as we consider appropriate, any claim or suit asking for these damages.” The policy defined a “covered person” as “you or any family member for the ownership, maintenance, or use of any auto or trailer.” The policy excluded coverage for any person “[w]ho intentionally causes bodily injury or property damage.”
Griffin’s petition alleged that “[s]uddenly and without warning, a vehicle driven by [Royal] approached Mr. Griffin. Several rounds of gunfire were discharged from the vehicle in the direction of the Plaintiff.” It continued: “This drive-by shooting was a random act of violence which has permanently injured and scarred the plaintiff.” Thus, although Griffin sought relief on legal theories of negligence and gross negligence, he alleged facts indicating that the origin of his damages was intentional behavior. He made no factual contention that could constitute negligent behavior by Royal. Griffin’s claim is within the policy’s exclusion of intentional acts. Farmers therefore has no duty to defend Royal.
Farmers is not required to defend Royal for another reason: Griffin’s petition does not allege that his injuries resulted from an auto accident. “The term ‘auto accident’ refers to situations where one or more vehicles are involved with another vehicle, object, or person.”
It may sometimes be necessary to defer resolution of indemnity issues until the liability litigation is resolved. In some cases, coverage may turn on facts actually proven in the underlying lawsuit. For example, the plaintiff may allege both negligent conduct and intentional conduct; a judgment based upon the former type of conduct often triggers the duty to indemnify, while a judgment based on the latter usually establishes the lack of a duty. In many cases, however, the court may appropriately decide the rights of the parties before judgment is rendered in the underlying tort suit.
This Court held that the duty to indemnify is justiciable before the insured’s liability is determined in the liability lawsuit when the insurer has no duty to defend and the same reasons that negate the duty to defend likewise negate any possibility the insurer will ever have a duty to indemnify. Based on the facts and the rule the Court announced, Farmers had no duty to indemnify Royal. No facts could be developed in the underlying tort suit that could transform a drive-by shooting into an “auto accident.” Farmers had no duty to defend, and, for the same reasons, had no duty to indemnify Royal.
Some of the legal aspects of this case can be confusing. The Court in it’s opinion discussed the difference from the duty of an insurance company to defend a lawsuit and the duty to pay for damages.
All this is yet more proof showing why a person needs to get an experienced Insurance Law Attorney involved in potential claims.