Car Owner’s Failure to Maintain Vehicle Doesn’t Provide Grounds for Additional Recovery for Injured Passenger

Bald_tyreA woman injured in an auto accident tried an unusual technique to expand her possible recovery from an insurance company. She argued that, although her injuries occurred after one single-vehicle crash, they were the result of two separate and distinct acts of negligence and, as a result, arose from two legal “accidents.” The unique approach failed, however, as the California Court of Appeal agreed with a lower court that there were not two legal accidents, but rather two concurrent acts of negligence leading to one accident.

Kari Amaya owned a car that she insured with Mercury Insurance Co. Her policy covered herself and Ashley Amaya. One day in July 2011, Ashley Amaya allowed Carla Hurtado to drive the car. Hurtado was speeding on the freeway when a tire blew out. The driver lost control and crashed, seriously injuring a passenger, Monique Jones. Jones incurred more than $200,000 in medical bills. Analysis of the car’s tires revealed that they were severely worn, with less than 1/32 of an inch of tread left on them.

The owner’s insurance policy had a cap of $100,000 per person per injury. Jones then attempted a novel strategy to recover the cost of her medical expenses. When she sued Amaya’s insurer, she claimed that her injuries actually arose from two distinct incidents, which would mean that she could recover up to $200,000, instead of just $100,000.

Jones’ case rested on her interpretation of California law pertaining to the “causation test.” That test says that, if an injury is the result of “a single, uninterrupted course of conduct,” the number of accidents is one. If, however, the harm was also the result of another cause that interrupted or replaced the first, they make up separate incidents. According to Jones, two different insureds, at clearly separate times, acted negligently:  the owner when she failed to maintain the tires on the car in a proper and safe manner, and the driver by speeding and failing to maintain control of the car when the tire blew out. As a result, she argued she was entitled to twice the $100,000 cap.

The insurance company took the case to court, asking the court to issue a declaratory ruling stating that Jones’s injuries were subject to the $100,000 cap. The trial court agreed. “The tire blew. The car flipped. And somebody was injured… That is [one] accident,” the court wrote in ruling in favor of the insurance company. On appeal, Jones again advanced her two-accident argument, but it again proved unsuccessful. According to the court, contending that the owner’s “failure to replace the tire (long before the crash) was an ‘accident’ defies common sense and the definition of ‘accident.'” Jones’s theory was original, but it was original because “not ‘many people would even make the argument.'”

The problem for Jones was that her argument did not take into account one fundamental element of auto insurance and injury law in general. A person who negligently fails to perform an act that he or she had a responsibility to do, or does the act improperly, is only financially responsible for that negligence when it causes an injury to someone. In Jones’ case, if the bald tire had not failed and the driver had not wrecked the car, Jones would not have been injured, and the owner would have owed nothing to Jones for allowing her to ride in a car with bald tires. The obligation only arose after Jones suffered damages, which happened because the driver crashed.

Pursuing a full and just recovery for your injuries sometimes means advancing unique legal arguments. Whether your case involves original or more common legal theories, it is important to obtain knowledgeable counsel to provide you with the best assessment of your case. If you’ve been injured in an auto accident, talk to the Oakland car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Stephen M. Fuerch. Our injury law attorneys have the experience and skill needed to provide you with a clear understanding of your case. Contact us through our website or call our office at (925) 463-1073 to schedule your confidential initial consultation today.

More Blog Posts:

Jury Verdict Holding Driver Not Liable for Crash Survives Despite Improper Testimony, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Oct. 30, 2014

California Appellate Court Wrong for Allowing Prejudicial Evidence of Crash Victim’s Marijuana Use, Oakland Personal Injury Attorney Blog, Oct. 30, 2014

Photo credit: PookieFugglestein at Wikimedia Commons.