The vehicle must not be in motion for an accident to occur, Ms. Supreme Ct. Rules

In April, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled, based on first impressions, that a car doesn’t have to be in motion for a “car crash” to occur. In Mississippi Farm Accident Insurance Bureau v. Powell, the court ruled that the car accident involved the insured vehicle in accordance with Farm Bureau policy, even though the insured vehicle was not in motion when the accident occurred.

According to the facts of the case, plaintiff Trent Kraft accidentally fell on a trailer owned and used by insured Anthony Powell. The trailer was attached to a pickup truck owned and driven by Powell. Powell was insured by the Farm Bureau at the time of the accident. Powell drove an insured pickup truck and a scaffolding trailer to the construction site. The scaffolding that was towed in the Powell trailer was installed on the trailer itself at the construction site to install trusses for the barn.

Kraft was helping another worker install roof trusses. The workers used the ladder to climb up or down the scaffolding. While scaffolding was used, the trailer remained tied to Powell’s pickup truck. As each truss was in place, Powell drove the truck and trailer to the next truss position. As the truck moved forward, Claimant Kraft and another worker remained on the scaffolding. When the trailer was positioned to install the next scaffolding, Powell stopped the truck, turned off the truck’s engine, and left the truck to do other tasks while Claimant Kraft and his colleague installed the next truss.

The accident happened at lunchtime. The truck engine was off. Kraft climbed down from the scaffolding. As Kraft dismounted, another worker jumped onto the trailer platform, causing the trailer to rock. As a result of the trailer swaying, Kraft fell onto the trailer platform and was seriously injured.

The Farm Bureau denied auto liability coverage. The Farm Bureau argued that the terms of the insurance policy in question required an injury “due to an automobile accident” and/or “caused by an automobile accident”, and that the terms of the policy thus required a direct causal relationship between insured car and car accident. In effect, the Bureau of Pharm asked the court to amend an auto insurance contract to define a “car accident” as “a situation in which a vehicle used as a means of transportation is involved in some sort of collision or impact.” close collision with another vehicle, object or person.”

The Supreme Court rejected this approach because (1) the Farm Bureau chose not to define the phrase “car crash” in policy; (2) the phrase “car crash” has been held by other courts to be ambiguous; and (3) if the court had interpreted the contract as requested by the Farm Bureau, the court would have rewritten the contract.

The court explained that Powell used the insured vehicle and trailer to transport Kraft and another worker from farm to farm. It didn’t matter that Powell turned off the engine while the workers were working. Reading the Farm Bureau policy would have resulted in intermittent coverage, depending on whether the truck’s engine was on or off as the truck passed a number of farms. Nowhere in the Farm Bureau regulations did coverage depend on the truck’s engine being on. The court pointed out that Farm Bureau policy applies to a trailer even if the trailer does not have an engine. Thus, the Farm Bureau’s interpretation was contrary to policy.

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