Insurance Experts: Colo. Road Rage Court Decision a Unique Case

Insurance experts say that a Colorado appeals court decision handed down earlier this year highlights a situation that members in the auto insurance seldom see: policyholders seeking compensation for a road rage incident that took place outside of any vehicle.

The case was brought by Chanson Roque and Shannon Isenhour against their own insurer. Roque and Isenhour had been injured by Richard Terlingen, who struck the two with a golf club after initially arguing with them while driving.

After the argument on the road, the three ended up in a McDonald’s parking lot, where Terlingen blocked in the other two by parking his car directly behind their cars and then proceeded to assault them with the golf club, according to court documents.

After unsuccessfully filing a claim with Terlingen’s insurer for their injuries, Roque and Isenhour sought damages in court from their own insurance provider, Allstate. They claimed that since Terlingen’s own insurer wouldn’t cover the damages, he was technically an uninsured motorist and that their injuries should be covered under their Allstate uninsured motorist policy.

Allstate made the same argument that Terlingen’s insurer had made: if the incident took place outside of the car, it shouldn’t be covered by auto insurance. That logic eventually won out.

Kelly Campbell, regional manager in Colorado for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), said road rage-related cases are “pretty unique” for insurance companies, but they do make their way to court every couple years.

“When you look at all the claims and accidents that insurers see, you’ll typically see rear-ending and similar incidents,” she said. “But these [road rage incidents] are very unique situations.”

Bob Passmore, PCI senior director of personal lines, said that he hasn’t personally dealt with such a case in his two decades’ worth of experience with insurance claims.

“I’ve worked in claims for 22 years and in 13 states in the Midwest, and I’ve heard of [road rage claims] but never had one pass my desk,” he said. “But whenever they happen, they tend to wind up in the news or in headlines.”

Preceding Cases Helped Direct Court Decision

Campbell said road rage-related claims seldom show up in courts, with the last major Colorado ruling occurring in 2003 and involving a woman seeking compensation from State Farm. The woman, who was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in her own vehicle, claimed that she should get Colorado car insurance compensation from her coverage because the vehicle was involved in her injuries, but the court disagreed, saying the vehicle was not directly used in causing her injuries.

Campbell said that such situations end up in court when insurers and policyholders butt heads over insurance policy language.

“Generally speaking, when you’re looking at policy language that falls in the gray area about whether something is covered or not, it becomes a legal question,” she said. “Those are the types of situations that may lend themselves to legal action.”

One of the major questions that the court addressed in the Allstate case was whether or not trapping a vehicle with another vehicle to carry out an assault created a “causal connection” between the vehicle and ensuing injuries.

In the Allstate case, the state court relied heavily on the 2003 ruling to formulate its argument that Roque and Isenhour were not due compensation for the road rage incident. But the court also referred to other similar court decisions involving a car aiding in the carrying out of an assault; most of those rulings occurred in the 1990s and 1980s.

In those cases, using a car to “block another’s escape before leaving [the] car to commit assault” did not constitute enough of a direct link between the car and the assault to justify compensation under insurance coverage, according to the court ruling.

An appeal to the ruling, which would bring the case to the state Supreme Court for further consideration, hasn’t been filed, but Campbell said that she did not expect an appeal to be considered by the state’s highest court.

“The Supreme Court already addressed the issue in the Kastner case,” she said, referring to the 2003 ruling. “Every 10 years or so this issue has popped up, but the court gave a pretty clear ruling in the Kastner case, so I don’t think it would feel the need to address it again.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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