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Shootout on Highway 65: Are Gunfights Covered Under an Auto Insurance Policy?

While it is true that one can insure just about anything, that does not mean that everything is insured. A man in Southeast Arkansas learned that lesson the hard way, after his auto insurance claim was denied following a gunshot injury that he received while driving on a highway.

The man was driving his vehicle on U.S. Highway 65 in Mitchellville, Arkansas, when an individual in a separate vehicle pulled up beside the man’s vehicle and shot him. The man was able to drive himself to the hospital to receive medical attention. Subsequently, he filed an uninsured motorist claim with his insurance company for his personal injuries and personal property damages. The insurance company denied the claim, citing a provision in the insurance policy that excluded injuries and damages that result from an “intentional act” and arguing that there was “no causal relationship or connection between [the man’s] claimed bodily injuries and property damage and the use of a motor vehicle.” In essence, it argued that the injuries and property damage did not “arise out of” the use of the motor vehicle, as is required under the terms of the policy. The man, on the other hand, asserted that a causal connection did exist and even though the shooter intentionally shot him, the man had no way of knowing that he was going to be shot and, therefore, it was an accident from his perspective. In addition, he argued that the terms “accident,” “arising out of a motor vehicle,” and “arising out of the use of” were not defined in the insurance policy and were susceptible to multiple reasonable interpretations.

While the Arkansas Court of Appeals agreed with the insurance company that the shooting was “an intentional act, not an accident as contemplated in the policy,” the case primarily turned on the interpretation of the term “arising out of” in the insurance policy. As a general rule, in Arkansas, “[i]f the language of an insurance policy is unambiguous, [courts] give effect to the policy’s plain language . . .” Williams v. Allstate Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co., 2017 Ark. App. 45, *5 (Ark. App. 2017). However, “if the language is ambiguous, [courts] construe the policy liberally in favor of the [person holding the insurance policy] and strictly against the [insurance company].” Id. In Williams, the Arkansas Court of Appeals relied upon Arkansas Supreme Court precedent in holding that in the context of an uninsured motorist provision, the term “arising out of” means something that is “causally connected with” the subject of the provision. Based upon this interpretation, the Court of Appeals determined that the term “arising out of” was clear and unambiguous and had been appropriately applied in prior insurance cases.

The prior insurance cases included an Arkansas Supreme Court case in which the appellate court found that an accidental shooting involving two kids who discharged a gun they found stored in a vehicle did not arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the vehicle. There was also an Arkansas Court of Appeals case in which the appellate court held that uninsured motorist coverage was inapplicable in a case in which a driver was shot by his passenger after the driver pulled the vehicle to the side of the road due to his intoxicated passenger becoming ill.

Based upon the factual and legal analysis found in these two prior cases and an additional case involving a volunteer firefighter who was injured by an inadvertently slammed van door while at the scene of an automobile accident, the Arkansas Court of Appeals found the injuries that occurred as a result of the shooting on the highway “could have just as easily taken place outside of the vehicles.” Accordingly, the Arkansas Court of Appeals held that there was no causal connection between the vehicle’s use and the shooting and, therefore, it was appropriate for the insurance company to deny the man’s uninsured motorist claim.

In light of these decisions, one should not rely upon a standard auto insurance policy to cover unusual injuries, such as gunshot wounds. It is a safe bet that such injuries will not be covered by a standard auto insurance policy. If one has questions regarding what is and is not covered under a particular insurance policy, he or she should seek out professional guidance.

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