New York’s Top Court Holds Uninsured Motorists Coverage Applies to Intentional “Accident”

We’ve stressed to our clients and in our writings the importance of protecting them and their families by obtaining as much Supplementary Uninsured Motorists (“SUM”) Coverage as possible. SUM coverage provides the insured and their family with coverage when they are injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident the fault of someone else who has no insurance or less liability insurance than the insured. In this way, you are not at the mercy of someone who not only causes harm but also has no or little insurance to compensate their victim.But is there coverage if the injured is the victim of an intentional crime? Yes, says New York’s Court of Appeals in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Langan, 2011 WL 1118579 (March 29, 2011). In that case, decedent, Neil Conrad Spicehandler, was struck by a vehicle at 7th Avenue and 32nd Street in Manhattan on February 12, 2002. He sustained a compound fracture of his left lower leg, requiring surgery, and died from complications shortly after the operation. The decedent was one of many who were injured when the driver, Ronald Popadich, intentionally drove his vehicle into pedestrians. Popadich later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and admitted that he intended to cause Spicehandler’s death. Spicehandler’s estate was able to recover from the SUM provisions of his insurance policy because the Court of Appeals held that the intentional assault of an innocent insured is an accident within the meaning of his or her own policy. “The occurrence at issue was clearly an accident from the insured’s point of view and Langan is entitled to benefits under the UM endorsement.” An interesting dissent was made by Judge Robert S. Smith, who while dissenting from the reasoning of the majority opinion did not seem to object to the result obtained. Judge Smith reasoned that inasmuch as the purpose of SUM coverage is to protect an insured who is injured by a tortfeasor without liability insurance – a purpose accomplished by putting the insured in the position that he would have been in if the tortfeasor had been insured – there could be no SUM coverage in this case because there could be no claim under a policy of liability insurance because the general rule is that liability insurance cannot cover intentional torts. But Judge Smith indicated that he might support, in cases involving automobile liability policies required by statute, modification of the general rule that liability insurance cannot cover intentional torts. Judge Smith indicated his agreement with the reasoning of other courts that the purpose of liability insurance, to the extent that it is required by law, is to protect injured victims, not tortfeasors, and that victims should be protected no less against intentional than against negligent torts. The lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims including those involving auto accidents. For over 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and surrounding areas. If you or someone close to you has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. To learn more, watch our videos.

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