What Is An Accident

Dallas insurance attorneys need to be able to answer the above question in the context of an insurance policy. A 1997, Texas Supreme Court case provides some guidance for the question. The style of the case is, Farmers Texas County Mutual Insurance Company v. Griffin. Here is some of the relevant information.
This is a declaratory judgment action. Farmers 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. This Court affirmed the judgment for Farmers.
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.
Farmers’ policy provides 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 defines a “covered person” as “you or any family member for the ownership, maintenance, or use of any auto or trailer.” The policy excludes coverage for any person “[w]ho intentionally causes bodily injury or property damage.”
An insurer’s duty to defend and duty to indemnify are distinct and separate duties. Thus, an insurer may have a duty to defend but, eventually, no duty to indemnify. For example, a plaintiff pleading both negligent and intentional conduct may trigger an insurer’s duty to defend, but a finding that the insured acted intentionally and not negligently may negate the insurer’s duty to indemnify.
A court must focus on the factual allegations rather than the legal theories asserted in reviewing the underlying petition. In determining whether Farmers has a duty to defend Royal, then, the court must decide whether Griffin has alleged an auto accident that does not involve intentional acts.
Griffin’s petition alleges that “suddenly 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 continues: “This drive-by shooting was a random act of violence which has permanently injured and scarred the plaintiff.” Thus, although Griffin seeks 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.” The term “auto accident” is not ambiguous so that a court must look to the parties’ intent or a construction in favor of coverage.To read Griffin’s petition as alleging an “auto accident” would strain that term beyond any reasonable meaning.
As can be seen, this incident was not an “accident” within the meaning of that term in the policy and thus there was no coverage.