Determining the number of accidents under insurance policies in Georgia

This blog post by Gwinnett County based wrongful death and personal injury lawyer Richard Armond addresses Georgia's legal standard for how courts determine under particular sets of facts where multiple people are injured whether an insurance policy covers an insured for a single accident/occurrence (with a single policy limit of liability coverage) or more than one accident/occurrence (with more than one policy limit of liability coverage) when the policy does not specifically define an accident. The Georgia Supreme Court in 2010 adopted a "cause theory" for making this determination as explained below. This is extremely important in cases where more than one person is injured because often multiple plaintiffs have but a single policy limit to cover their losses, but every so often the facts dictate multiple accidents/occurrences in which the policy limits of liability coverage apply separately. Trial attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, is based in Lawrenceville, Georgia, and he handles cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia.

Many insurance policies, whether auto, home, or other types of liability policies, cover an insured for liability on a per accident or per occurrence basis. An example is with liability coverage on an auto policy where a person has bare minimum bodily injury liability coverage allowed under Georgia law of $25,000 per person and $50,000 per accident. If the insured gets in one wreck which injures two people who incurred $100,000 in medical bills, the policy will only cover a total of $50,000 (and no more than $25,000 as to each person) and not the total loss of $100,000. However, if the the insured's car was drivable and ten minutes later he wrecked and injured a third person, this would typically be a separate accident and the policy limit of liability coverage would be available to cover the insured for damages to that person. 

Sometimes, however, it is difficult to determine whether injuries to multiple people happened in one accident or occurrence or multiple accidents or occurrences. The Georgia Supreme Court case of State Auto Prop. & Cas. Co. v. Matty, 690 S.E.2d 614, 286 Ga. 611 (Ga., 2010) sets forth the applicable legal standard in Georgia for determining whether injuries were sustained in one accident or occurrence or multiple accidents or occurrences. This case is incredibly important in serious injury and wrongful death cases involving more than one injured person because it dictates, as to most common liability policies, whether a single policy limit will apply to all victims, or whether more than one policy limit will be available.

In State Auto Prop. & Cas. Co. v. Matty a negligent driver struck a bicyclist, killing him, and then just over a second later struck a second bicyclist, seriously injuring him. The negligent driver's auto policy had a bodily injury liability policy limit of $100,000 for each accident. The insurance company contended these facts constituted a single accident with a single limit of $100,000, while the claimants contended the facts demonstrated two accidents with a two $100,000 limits of coverage. Id. at 690 S.E.2d 616.

The Georgia Supreme Court adopted a "cause theory," meaning that to determine if a set of facts involves one accident or more than one accident, a court looks at the number of causes of the injuries and asks if "there was but one proximate, uninterrupted, and continuing cause which resulted in all of the injuries and damage." Id. at 690 S.E.2d 617. Further, in the context of an automobile accident "courts look to whether, after the cause of the initial collision, the driver regained control of the vehicle before a subsequent collision, so that it can be said there was a second intervening cause and therefore a second accident." Id.

Ultimately, in the Matty case under the facts outlined above, there were two accidents and not just one because there was some evidence through the testimony of an accident investigator 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. & Cas. Co. v. Matty, Docket No. 11-10419 [unpublished opinion], (11th Cir. 2011).

It is important to note that the Matty case before the Georgia Supreme Court is limited to cases in which the applicable insurance policies does not explicitly define "accident." If a policy includes some specific definition in which a scenario such as that in Matty is a single accident, then the policy will likely only cover one policy limit as a matter of contract law between the insurance company and the insured driver. 

Cases in which multiple people are injured can be complex. An experienced serious injury and wrongful death attorney is needed to properly determine and argue coverage issues to ensure no stone is left unturned regarding potential insurance to cover a loss. 

If you or a loved one have been injured by the negligence of another in Georgia, please contact Gwinnett County based personal injury and wrongful death lawyer Richard Armond at (678) 661-9585 for a free consultation. 

Attorney Richard Armond of The Armond Firm, LLC, handles serious personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout metro Atlanta and the State of Georgia. He is licensed to practice law by the State Bar of Georgia and is based in Lawrenceville, one mile down the road from the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. Call him today for a free consultation at (678) 661-9585. The information above is for informational purposes only as of the date of publication and should not be relied upon as legal advice, nor does the reading of it form an attorney-client relationship. Always consult directly with an attorney for legal advice.