UM Claims – “Accidents” And “Arise Out Of Use”

A Parker County or Palo Pinto County insurance lawyer handling uninsured motorist (UM) claims need to understand how the terms “accidents” and “arise out of use” are looked at by Texas courts.

Texas decisions suggest that if an incident is intentional or criminal in nature, there may not be an “accident” for UM purposes.  If the incident is unexpected or unintended, Texas courts are more willing to find coverage.  The somewhat varying interpretations of “accident” and “use” require close scrutiny of the facts of each claim to determine if UM coverage is triggered.

Here is an example from the Texas Supreme Court in 1999.  The opinion is styled, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Whitehead.  In this case, the court ruled a drive-by shooting does not trigger UM coverage.  A passenger in a truck was injured when the truck in which she was riding hit a bridge stanchion after the driver lost control of the vehicle.  The driver lost control after being shot by the passenger of another vehicle.  The court determined the injury was purely incidental to the “use” of the vehicle because the shooting resulted from an independent and intentional act.  The fact that the automobile is the situs of the accident is not sufficient to establish the necessary nexus between the use of the vehicle and the accident.  As such, the court held the policy did not provide overage for the passenger’s injury.

Prior to the court’s ruling in Whitehead, two other courts had reached the same conclusion in similar situations.  In 1996, the Court of Appeals in Houston in both the 1st Dist. and the 14th Dist. made similar rulings.  The first was State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. v. Whitehead and the second was Collier v. Employers National Insurance Co.  In Collier, the court pointed out that it was not the intention of the policy to protect the insured against criminal assaults but to insure against automobile collisions.  The shooting did not arise out of the inherent nature of the vehicle and therefore did not “arise out of the use” of the uninsured auto.  Similarly, the Le court reasoned the gun was the instrumentality that caused the injuries, not the car.  Accordingly, the injuries did not arise out of the use of the vehicle.