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Family loses wrongful death claim against Pioneer State based on trailer exclusion

Toni Hall was killed when a trailer towed by Thomas Dells detached from Dells' van, crossed the centerline, and struck the windshield of her car.  Her family sued for wrongful death.  Dells had homeowners liability insurance that generally excluded  liablility arising out of "motor vehicles" and "towed trailers."  The family argued that at the point of impact and death, the trailer was not "towed" and therefore Pioneer's liability coverage should apply to compensate the Hall family for the death.

The Court held that while this was a clever argument--and while it seems to fit the exact insurance language (regardless of intent), the trailer fell within the exclusion for "motor vehicles" and "towed trailers" because the towing van "played an integral and indispensable role" in causing Hall's death.  It held that the death would not have occurred if the trailer had not been towed, regardless of whether it was "towed" at the moment of impact.

The decision makes sense in a common sense sort of way, but similar "common sense" interpretations of insurance language are ignored if the precise language would appear to insulate an insurer from coverage.  It seems like another example of legal interpratation of insurance contracts in the insurer's favor--either on the basis of the precise language, or on the basis of "common sense" despite the precise language.  Insurers seem to win either way.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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