Per Accident Limits in Insurance Policies

Many people are familiar with car insurance policies that express their policy limits in a split fashion; that is $25,000 per person/$50,000 per accident. The per accident limit can frequently be a problem if there is a multiple car pile-up and not enough insurance to go around.

There is an interesting series of cases that say that in the right circumstances, the issue of what is a single accident is no so open and shut. In State Auto Prop. & Cas. Co. v. Matty, 286 Ga. 611 (Ga., 2010), the defendant truck driver struck one bike rider and killed him. He proceeded down the road for another second after swerving off the road and recovering and struck and injured a second biker.

The insurance company only had $100,000 per accident liability coverage. The two victims argued that each victim was involved in a separate accident and there should be $100,000 available to each person. The issue went to the Georgia Court of Appeals and the Court ruled that in Georgia we apply the cause analysis. That is, if the thing that caused the injury was a single cause, then that is one accident. The Court decided that the issue of whether the two separate impacts were caused by separate accidents went to the jury. The jury found for the victims.

The Defendants appealed again arguing that as a matter of law, they should win because the events were mere seconds apart. The appellate court ruled that because there was a brief recovery by the truck driver before the new impact, that the jury was entitled to find a separate accident.

“The defendants submitted testimony from an investigator to establish that ‘after the cause of the initial collision, [Rachel] regained control of the vehicle before [the] subsequent collision, so that it [could] be said there was a second intervening cause and therefore a second accident,’ State Auto Prop. and Cas. Co. v. Matty, 286 Ga. 611, 614, 690 S.E.2d 614, 617 (2010). The investigator testified that two wheels of Rachel’s vehicle moved onto the shoulder of the road before it struck Matty, but Rachel made a “steering input” or a “correction” that redirected the vehicle from a path “off the roadway and down an embankment” back onto the road.” State  Auto  Prop.  &  Cas.  Co.  v.  Matty (11th Cir., 2011)

So keep this case in mind if there are distinct impacts and not enough limits in hand. With the right policy language, it may be possible to find additional insurance coverage.