Strange auto accidents: What kind of insurance coverage applies?

June 6, 2019


Question: My question regards collision vs. comprehensive coverage on a standard personal auto policy.

A pickup with a small attached utility trailer was backing up. While backing up slowly, the pickup turned too sharp and jackknifed the front left corner of the trailer into the left side panel of the pickup.


Can a reasonable comprehensive argument be made that since the crushing force to the side of the pickup came from the ATTACHED trailer, the trailer was a part of the vehicle, and thus a vehicle cannot impact itself? Thus this is an “other than collision” incident?


— Washington subscriber

Answer: We described a collision loss as follows in our article “What is Collision?”


Collision in the personal auto policy “means the upset of ‘your covered auto’ or a ‘non-owned auto’ (defined terms) or the impact with another vehicle or object.”


Your covered auto in the PAP includes a trailer designed to be pulled by a private passenger auto or a pickup or van. So the insured’s pickup and trailer were each “your covered auto.” We see this as a collision loss.


Coverage for pedestrian/auto accident


Question: I am trying to find clarification on whether or not damage caused by impact with a human to an insured vehicle is a comprehensive or collision claim under personal auto coverage.


Animal damage is considered a comp claim, and I have an agent arguing that humans are animals. Most companies I have worked for in the past have considered this a collision claim but now I am questioning if that is correct. It seems like this should be considered a comp claim by definition. I appreciate any input on this topic.


— Indiana subscriber


Answer: Although from a purely biological perspective, humans may indeed fall into the category of animals, the term “animal” in the context of automobile property insurance, at least, has been construed to exclude humans.


In McCay v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 933 F. Supp. 635 (S.D. Tex. 1995), the court, applying Texas law, found the definition of the term “animal” excluded human beings for purposes of comprehensive coverage on an automobile for damage resulting from contact with an animal or bird. The court explained that, according to Black’s Law Dictionary the legal definition of animal excludes human beings.


See, e.g., Black’s Law Dictionary at 87 (6th ed. West 1990) (defining “animal” as “Non-human, animate being which is endowed with the power of voluntary motion. Animal life other than man.”).


See also Bernadine v. City of New York, 44 N.Y.S. 2d 881 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1943) which also supports the stance that a human is not an animal.


Tire blowout damage: Comp or collision?


Question: The below capture is an excerpt from the FC&S Personal Auto discussion from your website questioning how to qualify damage to a vehicle as comp vs. collision involving tire tread separation:


Our insured was driving his car down the highway when a tire on the car shredded. Parts of the tire broke the muffler system and dented the wheel well. The insurer wants to cover the damage under the collision coverage, but we feel that other than collision coverage is more proper. 


The definition of “collision” that is on the auto policy is important in this instance. Assuming that the definition is “impact with another vehicle or object,” we believe that if the tire tread had completely separated from the rest of the tire and the wheel at the time it struck the muffler, collision is the proper coverage; that is, if the tire tread pieces had separated from the tire and wheel, then they were “another object” that collided with the insured’s auto. If the pieces were still somehow connected to the auto at the time of the damage, then the pieces cannot be considered “another object” separate from the insured’s auto. In such an instance, coverage would be under the other than collision part of the policy.


Could you provide additional explanation how the tire tread entirely separating from the vehicle makes the claim collision?


— Kentucky subscriber


Answer: The main thing about the shredded tire being a collision or other than collision loss is the phrase “impact with ANOTHER object”. If the tire is still connected to the wheel, and thus, the car, it cannot be ANOTHER object. If the tire is separated from the vehicle, it becomes another object.


Now, you make a good point about a flying tire being a missile; it certainly could be. So, it boils down to what is best for the insured. If the damage is caused by a cause of loss that could be seen as both a collision loss and an other than collision loss, the insured should get the benefit of the reasonable doubt and have the damage listed under the cause of loss that has the lower deductible.


Sticky situation


Question: Our policyholder drove through some wet paint on the road, which caused damage to his vehicle. Our question is whether this is a comp or a collision claim or if this would be covered at all?


— Iowa subscriber


Answer: Interestingly, this question came up at a recent claims association meeting. The consensus of the claims adjusters there was that this type of loss can be considered as covered under either scenario. The damage was caused by an impact with another object, that is, paint as an object impacting with the auto. Or, this could be a comprehensive loss with paint falling across the auto. The answer should be one that is in the best interests of the insured; in other words, if the insured has a lower deductible with a collision claim, then this would be considered a collision loss; if the insured has a lower deductible with a comprehensive claim, then this would be considered a comprehensive loss. The insured should get the benefit of the doubt here since both a collision loss and a comprehensive loss are understandable and reasonable explanations for the claim.


By FC&S Editors & Property Casualty 360

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