Steven Plitt, Expert Witness Steven Plitt, Expert Witness
Insurance Bad Faith Claim Handling Expert Serving Clients Nationwide

BARKING UP THE WRONG TREE FOR AUTO COVERAGE

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Kelley v. North East Insurance Co., 2017 ME. 166, ____ A.3d _____2017, 2017 WL 3138209 (Me. July 25, 2017) considered whether a dog bite incident involving the insured's dog was covered under the insured's automobile liability policy. Under the facts of the case, the insured, Theresa Snyder, had an automobile liability policy on her Ford Mustang. Snyder owned the dog with another individual, Tim McCann. Snyder and McCann were not married. At the time of the incident, McCann was driving his employer's vehicle to meet the seller of another vehicle. During the trip, McCann brought their dog with him. While the dog was in the McCann vehicle, it bit a third party. At the time, Snyder was not present, was not the driver of the vehicle (Tim McCann was), was not a passenger or the owner of the vehicle (the employer was) that the dog was in when it bit the third party.

Snyder's policy obligated the insurance company, North East, to indemnify Snyder for bodily injuries that Snyder became legally responsible for because of an automobile accident. However, the policy did not define what an automobile accident was. Applying a common sense definition, the court interpreted the phrase, "auto accident" to mean an unintended and unforeseen injurious occurrence involving an automobile. When viewed from that perspective the court held that the phrase did not stretch far enough to encompass bodily injuries caused by dog bites that occurred in a car that had absolutely no causal connection to the injury and that was not even in operation.

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