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Insurance Dispute in Chain-Reaction Collisions – One Collision or Two?

The recent case of Wright v. Turner, reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court, centered on the issue of underinsured motorist coverage.

Our Miramar car accident attorneys know that no matter what state you’re in, insurance companies will aggressively battle to reduce their liability. Ensuring that you receive the compensation you deserve means you must be prepared to fight back.

In this case, the plaintiff was a passenger in a vehicle that was struck multiple times by two other negligent drivers. The big question for insurance purposes was: How many accidents were there? Was there one, multi-vehicle collision, or were there two separate crashes?

It is not uncommon in multi-vehicle crashes for investigators to categorize the crashes as having occurred independent of each other.

In this case, according to court records, the core facts are undisputed: In April 2004, the plaintiff was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by a friend in Oregon when the pair encountered a hailstorm. The hail turned to rain as they began to descend a sharp decline. Suddenly, the driver of a sedan lost control. He spun around and hit the front end of the plaintiff’s truck. The two vehicles parted and then collided again before both came to a rest on the median, facing downhill.

After the two vehicles had come to a rest, the driver of the truck was able to get out, but the passenger could not, for fear of being struck by passing traffic. The plaintiff truck passenger unfastened her seat belt at the driver’s request to reach the driver’s purse on the floorboard. The driver was reaching in through the window when a sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of the truck. The impact of this then pushed the truck back into the sedan, dragging the truck driver and tossing the passenger about the cabin of the truck.

Both women survived. However, the collision impacted plaintiff’s existing degenerative spinal condition, and she was forced to undergo numerous surgeries and long-term therapies.

The plaintiff sought compensation for her substantial injuries by seeking compensation from both the sedan and SUV driver, as well as UIM benefits from her own insurer. She initially settled with both drivers for a total of $175,000, but then both plaintiff and the insurance company disputed the amount of damages.

The issue in dispute was that the plaintiff’s insurance policy was to cover a maximum of $500,000 in damages resulting from any one automobile accident. It was based on this that the plaintiff sought $1 million, initially.

But the insurance company attempted to argue that there had only been one crash, and therefore the maximum the plaintiff could receive was $500,000.

The trial court had submitted the question of damages to the jury, but did not ask the jurors to decide how many crashes had occurred. However, the trial court held that liability couldn’t exceed $500,000, per the terms of the policy.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff, and awarded her the maximum they were told allowable – $500,000. The insurance company contended it should have been allowed to argue that there had only been one crash, and that the plaintiff had failed to plead or prove otherwise.

The court of appeals sided with the insurance company.

However, the state supreme court found that the plaintiff had presented enough evidence that there had been two separate collisions, which thereby bumped her maximum compensation amount to $1 million.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:
Wright v. Turner, Feb. 20, 2014, Oregon Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
Speed a Major Contributing Factor in Coral Springs Car Accidents, Dec. 30, 2013, Miramar Car Accident Lawyer Blog

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