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ACE Fire Underwriters v. Romero: Car Accident Lawsuit

In ACE Fire Underwriters v. Romero, a case from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, driver left a local farm driving a tractor-trailer vehicle. He pulled on the highway next to the farm when the trailer separated from the tractor.

highway1Driver immediately realized his trailer had unhooked and drove off the road and made a U-turn so he would be facing the detached trailer.  His hope was that his headlights would light up the trailer so other cars on the road would see the trailer and avoid hitting it.   However, before he could make the U-turn, another car hit the trailer, which had no lights on it as it was no longer connected to a power source, and the driver of that vehicle died as a result of his injuries suffered in the car accident.

The personal representative of decedent’s estate and his children brought a wrongful death lawsuit as a result of the deadly car accident seeking damages from the farm and the truck driver. The parties agreed to settle the case for the policy limits.  However, there was a discrepancy over what the policy limits actually were.  The insurance company claimed there was a policy limit of $1 million per accident.

As our Boston car accident lawyers can explain, the way an auto liability insurance policy typically works is that that there is a total policy limit per personal injury per person, a total for the entire accident, and a total for the personal property damage to others. However, in this case, the issue what that there was a tractor and a trailer.  These are technically two separate vehicles, and each one carried its own insurance policy.

Defendant claimed that since it was a single accident, there was only one policy that would apply, so the limit was $1 million, despite the fact that there were more than one of defendant’s vehicles involved in the accident.   Plaintiff obviously claimed that, since there were two vehicles, each had a $1 million policy limit, the total in payable compensation should be $2 million.

First defendant’s insurance company paid the $1 million and then after some negotiations agreed to pay an additional $550,000 assuming the court concluded the plaintiff was correct in that both policies applied.

The trial court concluded that the term automobile included both the tractor and trailer and found that the $1 million policy limit was the most defendant should have to pay in a single accident.  At this point, plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider to the court of appeals, and that court found that there were two vehicles involved, so the amount was $2 million.  At this point, defendant appealed to the circuit court. In that final appeal, the court concluded that the tractor and the trailer were one vehicle and that the lower of the two policy amounts applied.

While this result was not one that favored the plaintiff, it is a relatively rare situation where a trailer unhooks and the trailer results in the accident without the tractor being attached.

If you are injured in an accident in Massachusetts, call the Law Offices of Jeffrey S. Glassman for a free and confidential appointment — 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:

ACE Fire Underwriters v. Romero, August 1, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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