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Is an Insurance Company Obligated to Pay a Personal Injury Judgment?

A personal injury lawsuit often involves a number of complex legal issues. For instance, even after a plaintiff has clearly established the defendant’s liability and proven he or she is entitled to damages, that often leads to the question of who will actually pay the award. Defendants often have insurance policies to cover personal injury judgments, but insurers are not always so eager to pay up. This can lead to additional litigation over the precise scope of the insurer’s responsibility.

Insurer Off the Hook for Toddler’s Injuries

Consider a recent case from here in Tennessee. The underlying personal injury lawsuit involved a two-year-old child. The child and his mother were visiting a home one day in May 2009. The son of the homeowners operated a lawn care business. The son kept some of the equipment for his business, notably a truck and a utility trailer, at his parents’ house.

The trailer was supposed to have two safety pins in place to “keep the trailer grate from falling open.” One of these pins was already missing on the day in question. At some point, the toddler “removed the remaining pin from the trailer gate, which then fell and struck him on the head.”

The child’s mother subsequently sued the homeowners and the son. The son had a commercial liability policy which covered, among other items, any judgments arising from “bodily injury” to others. The insurer balked at providing coverage, however, leading to additional litigation between the company and the child’s mother.

A trial judge determined the policy did apply to this case and denied the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. But in a February 12 decision, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed and ruled in favor of the insurance company. The key question, the appeals court said, was whether or not the child’s accident occurred “in the conduct of” the son’s lawn care business, as specified by the terms of the insurance policy. Based on the uncontested facts presented to the court, the accident took place about “one to two hours” after the son had completed his work for the day. Indeed, the son had returned the trailer to the house after completing work earlier in the day. This meant the victim’s mother could not establish a “causal link” between the business and the accident, which in turn was necessary to trigger the insurer’s liability under the commercial policy.

Get Advice from a Tennessee Personal Injury Lawyer

Insurance policies are often ambiguous and difficult to understand. Tennessee courts are supposed to resolve such ambiguities in favor of the insured—which generally means in favor of the victim trying to collect a judgment against a defendant’s policy. But there are still “close calls” where victims may lose out to clever drafting on the part of an insurer.

This is why you should not attempt to handle a personal injury lawsuit by yourself. An experienced Tennessee personal injury lawyer knows how to deal with insurance companies and complex policies, and if necessary fight for your best interests in court. Contact the offices of Fox & Farley, Attorneys at Law, in Knoxville or Clinton today if you need to speak with an attorney about your case as soon as possible.

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