Court: Crash Caused by Box in the Road Is Covered Under Auto Policy

A federal appeals court delivered on Wednesday its opinion that Allstate should pay for an uninsured motorist claim in which a driver swerved to avoid a box lying in the road that was presumed to have fallen off the back of an unidentified driver’s car.

The opinion from the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stated that since the injuries ultimately stemmed from the use of the unidentified motor vehicle that had been carrying the box, it should be covered under the claimant’s uninsured motorist policy.

The case has its beginnings in October 2008, when Larry Squires swerved to avoid a two-foot square cardboard box lying in the middle of a Pennsylvania highway and ended up getting injured as a result.

Squires filed a claim for his injuries under the uninsured motorist portion of his Pennsylvania automobile insurance policy, noting that since it was a limited-access highway that had no sidewalks, the box must have fallen off of a car.

While Allstate agreed that the box must have fallen off of a car, it took the claim to court, saying that the accident was caused by the box itself and that the injuries did not actually “arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an uninsured auto”–a stipulation that had been stated in the policy language.

A lower district court agreed with Allstate and said it did not have to pay the claim.

The district court had relied on the reasoning from a previous case in which a boy riding a bicycle crashed into a tree and suffered serious injuries after another boy riding in the back of a hay wagon threw hay in the cyclist’s face. After the cyclist’s parents filed a claim under their uninsured motorist policy, the court found that the injury was caused by the boy throwing the hay and not the vehicle he was riding in.

The district court said in its opinion that Squire’s case was similar because the cause of the accident was a box, not a vehicle–just as in the preceding case the cause was the boy throwing the hay, not the vehicle.

But the appeals court said that the comparison was too weak. It noted that the real cause of the accident in the other case was the boy intervening and throwing the hay, not the hay itself.

In its reversal of the lower court’s decision, the appeals court cited two previous cases in which injuries that had been caused by objects that had fallen off of a car had been attributed to the use of the cars.

One case involved an injury sustained by a worker who was hit by a metal trash can that had slipped off the back of a flatbed truck. In that case, it was determined that the accident had arisen out of the use of a vehicle.

Another case cited by the court involved a woman who injured herself when she tripped over debris that had been left there by a car that had crashed into her living room. In that case, the injuries again were found to have arisen out of the use of a vehicle.

The court also noted that the language of Pennsylvania’s financial responsibility law are to be interpreted as to give “the greatest possible coverage to injured claimants,” reversing the lower court’s decision and finding the claim covered under the uninsured motorist policy.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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