E-Alert Case Updates
Summary Judgment Properly Granted in Favor of Insurer in Coverage Case
Moses v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
In Moses v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co., No. 192 (Supreme Court of Delaware, September 25, 2014), the Court upheld a grant of summary judgment in favor of an insurer in an insurance coverage dispute. In the underlying litigation, the family members of two (2) deceased homicide victims brought an action against the permissive user of a vehicle which was involved in the transportation of the victims’ bodies to a dump site after a homicide. After the permissive user failed to appear or defend, a default judgment was entered against the permissive user in the amount of $750,000. The family members, as judgment creditors, subsequently filed a case against Nationwide, the insurer, seeking liability coverage under the Nationwide insurance policy on the vehicle. The trial court found that, under Maryland law (which applied because the policy was issued in Maryland; the insured vehicle was registered in Maryland; and the tortious activity took place in both Delaware and Maryland), that the causal connection between the use of the vehicle by the permissive user and the Plaintiffs’ injuries was too attenuated to trigger coverage under the policy. Therefore, summary judgment in favor of the insurer was proper. The appellate court affirmed on appeal.
The Court looked to State Farm Auto. Ins. Co. v. DeHaan, 393 Md. 163, 900 A.2d 208 (2006), where the Court of Appeals stated that for coverage to be triggered there must be “a direct causal relationship between the injury and the actual use of the vehicle.” A direct causal relationship requires “the active participation of the vehicle of the perpetrator or tortfeasor” in the events that caused the injury. By contrast, a direct causal relationship does not exist where the use of the vehicle is only incidentally related to the Plaintiff's injuries. Here, the permissive user of the insured vehicle agreed to help dispose of the victims’ bodies, and drove to the home in the insured vehicle, but the victim’s bodies were transported in another vehicle. Therefore, there was only an incidental connection between the use of the insured vehicle and the injuries Plaintiffs’ allegedly suffered. Accordingly, summary judgment in favor of the insurer was proper as no coverage was triggered.
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