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Insurer loses coverage dispute: Progressive "hoisted by its own petard;" victims granted "standing"

The McComiskey family sued Christopher Snedden after he caused a collision that injured them and killed their son.  Snedden was hauling milk in a truck that weighed over 12,000 pounds at the time, and the insurer for the truck paid the McComiskey family its policy limits. Snedden's insurer, however, refused to contribute to the settlement, arguing that under its policy language, it did not cover Snedden if he was driving a vehicle that weighed more than 12,000 pounds.  The Trial Court agreed with the insurer, Progressive Michigan, and threw out the McComiskey case against Progressive.  It also agreed with Progressive that the family did not have the "standing" to contest the meaning of the Snedden-Progressive policy language.

On appeal the Court of Appeals reversed the lower court and entered judgment against Progressive.  It noted that the policy made the coverage applicable any time an injury "arose out of the use, ownership or maintenance of a motor vehicle."  In this case, while Snedden's employer's truck was excluded under that phrase, the McComiskey's vehicle was not--rendering this an incident for which Progressive had agreed to provide coverage.  Contrary to Progressive's interpretation, nothing in the plain language of the policy required that its insured be operating the involved "vehicle."

The Court also held, unequivocally, that the injured people and the family of the decedent had a real interest in the interpretation of the policy sufficient to grant them standing to participate in its legal evaluation.

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