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

How Many Car Accidents Does It Take To Constitute An Occurrence?

An interesting case from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals considered the question of how many collisions constitute a single occurrence. In Evanston Ins. Co. v. Mid-Continent Casualty Co., 909 F.3d 143 (5th Cir. 2018) the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a series of automobile collisions constituted a single occurrence because each collision had a common cause and further, because there was no intervening event that was the immediate cause of damage. According to the Court, there was a single uninterrupted chain of events and therefore one accident.

In this case, the insured driver, Marlon Diggs, was driving a Mac truck for his employer, Global Waste Services, LLC. Diggs' Mac truck struck a Dodge Ram truck. Three minutes later, Diggs struck a Ford pick-up truck, and two minutes after that he struck a Honda at a toll booth. Notwithstanding each of these collisions, Diggs continued driving and eventually struck a Dodge Challenger. The employer had a $1 million primary policy with Mid-Continent and an excess policy with Evanston. All of the claims from the accident were settled within the primary layer, plus a substantial payment from the excess policy. The excess insurer then sued the primary insurer for reimbursement, alleging that at least three occurrences had taken place and therefore Mid-Continent, the primary carrier, owed Evanston money back from the settlement. The District Court agreed with Evanston that there were multiple occurrences. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed, however.

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that where there were several injuries attributed to the same underlying cause, the loss will be deemed a single occurrence unless there could be found an intervening event that occurred in the chain of causation that was sufficiently immediate to the loss so as to be deemed a separate cause. The appellate court could find no unusual or intervening event in the chain of causation that led to the multiple collisions here. Diggs had driven his truck in a single, uninterrupted course of events that happened to cause multiple injuries and damage in that continuous stream of misconduct. All of the claimants experienced a continuous or repeated exposure to the same general harmful collisions and therefore there was a single occurrence.

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