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Intentional Act Ruled An "Accident" By New York Appellate Court

September 22, 2008

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In 2002, Neil Spicehandler was run down by a crazed motorist who jumped the sidewalk in an attempt to "kill as many people as possible." After his death, Spicehandler's estate submitted a claim seeking benefits under the uninsured motorist (UM) and personal injury protection (PIP) endorsements in his auto policy. The adverse driver eventually pleaded guilty to murder in the second degree, admitting that he intentionally caused Spicehandler's death by striking him with his car.
State Farm denied the claim on both counts, arguing that Spicehandler's death was not "caused by an accident" given the driver's conceded intentional act. The Appellate Division, Second Department ruled that the UM endorsement excluded coverage for the incident because the UM coverage was limited to circumstances where the insured was injured in an automobile accident at the hands of an financially irresponsible motorist. Since the adverse driver intended to kill Spicehandler, there was no "accident" and hence no UM coverage.
Finding a distinction between the policy's UM and PIP endorsements, the First Department did not find such a limitation with regard to the death benefits claim. In contrast to its UM analysis, the court looked at whether the event was "accidental" from the standpoint of the insured in the PIP context. Since Spicehandler's death was unforseen from his standpoint, the event was "accidental" and State Farm's duty to provide death benfits triggered.
The opinion was decided 3-2, which gives State Farm the right of appeal to New York's highest court. Stay tuned.
<b><i>State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v Langan </i></b>
2008 NY Slip Op 06980
Decided on September 16, 2008
Appellate Division, Second Department
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