The Cincinnati Insurance Company has taken the position that its automobile policies do not cover injuries resulting from drunk driving collisions because such collisions are not considered “accidents.” The company argues that intentional acts are not accidents, and drunk drivers make the intentional choice to drink and then drive. This interpretation, however, conflicts with the plain meaning and common usage of the word “accident” and goes against the understanding and expectation of everyone who drives a car.
A recent case involving the collision of a drunk driver insured by Cincinnati and another vehicle highlights this issue. The driver was found to have been grossly negligent and was held liable for compensatory and exemplary damages. The insurer agreed to pay the compensatory damages but refused to pay the exemplary damages. The injured party then sued the insurer for breach of contract and declaratory judgment.
The case centered around whether the drunk driving collision was an “accident” under the terms of the insurance policy. The policy covered damages resulting from “accidents” caused by the employer’s employees. The court ultimately sided with the insurer, concluding that the collision was not an accident because the driver made an intentional decision to drive while intoxicated.
This interpretation of the term “accident” is flawed because it conflicts with the plain meaning and common usage of the term. Drunk driving collisions are not only unintended but also largely unpredictable. Many drivers who drive while intoxicated believe that they are still capable of driving safely, despite being impaired. Therefore, accidents involving drunk driving are often a result of negligence rather than an intentional act.
In conclusion, the insurance companies have the right to define the terms and limits of their policies, but they cannot unilaterally reinterpret commonly understood terms to avoid paying out claims. The purpose of insurance is to provide financial protection in the event of unexpected and unforeseen events, including accidents caused by drunk driving. Insurers must honor the reasonable expectations of policyholders and third-party beneficiaries and interpret policy language in a way that is consistent with the plain meaning and common usage of the terms.
Policyholders and third-party beneficiaries should carefully review their insurance policies and understand the coverage limitations and exclusions. It is also important to work with an experienced insurance attorney in the event of a dispute with an insurer over coverage or claim denial. Ultimately, insurers have a legal and ethical obligation to act in good faith and fairly evaluate claims under the terms and conditions of their policies.