North Carolina Truck Accident Involving Debris and Uninsured Motorist Coverage

dump truckIn a recent unpublished North Carolina appellate decision, the plaintiff appealed the dismissal of an insurer in his motorcycle accident case. The case arose while he was operating the motorcycle on a state road, and a large truck going too fast around a curve in the road swerved and dumped gravel around him. The spray of debris hit the plaintiff, who lost control of the vehicle and crashed it. The truck didn’t stop, and they couldn’t identify either the driver or the truck’s owner. The plaintiff was injured.

At the time of the accident, the motorcyclist was insured under an automobile policy with Progressive and another one with USAA General. He sued both insurers, seeking uninsured motorist coverage. The claims were denied. Progressive claimed that uninsured motorist coverage wasn’t triggered because there was no physical contact between the plaintiff and the uninsured vehicle or the dump truck and the plaintiff. The insurer claimed that the object that hit the plaintiff had to be part of the equipment on the hit and run vehicle in order for uninsured motorist coverage to be triggered.

The plaintiff sued Progressive and USAA General, asserting numerous claims, including breach of contract and bad faith. He submitted an eyewitness’ affidavit, stating that she saw the debris from the dump truck make direct contact with the plaintiff and his motorcycle, which would other wise not have crashed. She also stated that it appeared there was nothing the plaintiff could have done to avoid the accident.

Progressive moved to dismiss the case under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 1A-1, Rule 12(b)(6). It claimed both case law and policy language required physical contact between the vehicles. The defendant allowed the motion to dismiss on this basis. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the statute should be construed to give him uninsured motorist coverage. The appellate court explained that the North Carolina Motor Vehicle Safety and Financial Responsibility Act provided protection to policy holders who are legally permitted to recover damages for bodily injuries from the irresponsible owners of uninsured motor vehicles.

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 20-279.21(b)(3)(b) provides that if an insured claims he suffered a bodily injury due to a collision between motor vehicles, he can sue the insurer directly. The plaintiff argued that collision was synonymous with crash, which was defined elsewhere in the law as an event resulting in an injury due to a vehicle or its load, so the court should construe the “collision between motor vehicles” language to include the debris hitting his motorcycle.

The appellate court explained that the phrase described a specific type of collision, and it wasn’t that any type of collision was required but only a collision between motor vehicles. When interpreting a statute, a change in how something is phrased changes the presumption that there is a change in meaning. The appellate court explained that case law also supported the conclusion that the statute required a collision of vehicles. In an earlier case when an object fell from an unidentified vehicle and hit the plaintiff, this wasn’t enough to trigger uninsured motorist coverage. The appellate court affirmed the lower court.

If you were hurt or a loved one was killed in a truck accident, the experienced attorneys at Maurer Law may be able to help you recover compensation. Contact us at 919-229-8359 or via our online form.

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