Summary judgment was properly granted to an insurance company that declined to cover the cost of a judgment entered against one of its clients because the client did not have an “active relationship” with the insured vehicle at the time of the incident, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday.
In September 2009, Robert Curtis and Drake Matovich became involved in a physical altercation after the vehicle Curtis was driving bumped Matovich’s parked truck but did not stop. Curtis died nearly one year later, and his estate claims that his death was a result of the altercation.
Curtis’ estate filed a wrongful death suit against Matovich, alleging that his recklessness and negligence led to Curtis’ death. GEICO General Insurance Co., which insured the truck Matovich was driving at the time of the altercation, paid for Matovich’s defense, but reserved the right to later deny him coverage. The parties reached a settlement, which provided, in part, that Matovich would pay $357,868.45 to the estate, plus the costs of the action, and would assign “any and all claims which he may have against his own automobile company as a result of the matters contained within this litigation.”
GEICO filed a declaratory judgment action against Matovich and Curtis in January 2015, alleging that it had no obligation to pay the judgment, as the incident was not covered by the insurance policy that covered the truck. The insurance company then moved for summary judgment, which the St. Joseph Circuit Court granted after finding, in part, that “coverage does not exist because the injuries to the Deceased did not arise out of Matovich’s ownership, maintenance or use of the insured motor vehicle … .”
Curtis’ estate appealed, but the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Friday. Judge John Baker, writing for the panel, said an accident arises out of the “ownership, maintenance and use” of a vehicle if such use is the incident’s “‘efficient and predominating cause,’” which was not the case in the current litigation.
Curtis’ estate based its argument against summary judgment for GEICO on the case of Argonaut Insurance Company v. Jones, 953 N.E.2d 608 (Ind. Ct. App. 2011), in which the trial court found that a sheriff’s deputy was “using” her vehicle at the time of an accident that killed her and had an “active relationship” with the vehicle, even though she was not in it at the time of the accident.
However, Baker wrote that Argonaut is distinguishable from Curtis’ case because the sheriff’s deputy was using her insured vehicle to block traffic, while Matovich exited his insured truck to confront Curtis and, thus, no longer had an active relationship with the truck.
The case is The Estate of Robert Curtis, Sr., by its Personal Representative, Theresa Brade, v. GEICO General Insurance Company, 71A05-1610-PL-2438.