Insurer Not Liable for Fatal Indiana Truck Crash When Driver Knew Semi Was Overweight, Had Bad Brakes

An Indiana truck insurer will not be liable for a crash caused by the insured’s unforeseeable actions of knowingly driving an overloaded semi-truck without properly functioning brakes. A split Indiana Supreme Court voted 3-2 to allow the Indiana Court of Appeals’ ruling in ONB Insurance Group Inc. et al v. Amy Jones et al to stand.

The truck accident in question killed three people – a husband-and-wife and their granddaughter. Representatives of the estates of each pursued insurance coverage for negligence of the driver/owner of the truck. There were two insurance companies in question: One the company providing coverage and the other an independent insurance broker who seeks insurance quotes from multiple brokers and insurers. The broker was not an original party to the lawsuit.

The insurer filed a third-party claim against the broker, alleging the broker conspired with the trucking company owner to induce its firm to issue a commercial vehicle liability policy. That claim failed as a matter of law when the trial court awarded summary judgment. Claims subsequently filed by plaintiffs against the broker were given permission to proceed by the trial judge. But the appellate court later reversed, concluding the driver’s unlawful acts weren’t foreseeable by the broker (in light of the 2016 Indiana Supreme Court decision in Goodwin et al v. Yeakle’s Sports Bar and Grill, which created a separate test for “duty of care” by defendants compared to “proximate cause” of the injury). That is the decision the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed.

The ONB case arose in 2011 when a truck driver for the trucking company defendant stopped at a weigh station in Ohio and realized the truck was overweight and the brakes weren’t working. He called to inform the trucking company owner, who in turn asked the driver to at least drive the truck from Ohio to a point in Indiana on a route with no weigh stations. The driver refused. The truck company owner drove to Ohio the following day, retrieved the truck and, without conducting an inspection or repairs, continued to drive it to Indiana on the route with no weigh stations. That’s when the fatal crash happened.

As Gary truck accident attorneys can explain, in any Indiana negligence lawsuit the plaintiff must prove that defendant owed a duty of care, defendant breached that care, defendant’s breach was a proximate cause of the accident and the accident resulted in plaintiff’s injuries. The question regarding the insurance broker in ONB was whether the broker owed a duty of care to the decedents – and the answer to this was based on whether defendant driver’s actions were reasonably foreseeable. In Goodwin, the court outlined a new standard for reasonable foreseeability of harm specifically for determination of duty.

In that context, state supreme court justices had ruled that courts need to determine whether the likelihood that someone might be injured is serious enough that a reasonable person would take action to avoid that outcome. In Goodwin, the question was whether a bar owner could be liable for shooting injuries inflicted by another patron, who was armed. Given the facts of the case (that the bar was considered safe, there had never been a shooting there before, no one had ever seen a gun there and the shooter was known for being jovial, not aggressive) the court held the bar owed no duty of care for the unforeseen danger of the shooting.

In ONB, applying this same logic, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the broker didn’t owe a duty to plaintiffs because he could not have foreseen the truck owner/insured’s unlawful acts.

Indiana Injury Attorney Burton A. Padove handles personal injury claims throughout northern Indiana, including Highland, Gary and Hammond. Call Toll Free 877-446-5294.

Additional Resources:

Split justices uphold ruling for insurer in truck crash that killed 3, Jan. 29, 2019, By Dave Stafford, The Indiana Lawyer

More Blog Entries:

Indiana Injury on Aviation Company Property Case to Proceed, Sept. 15, 2017,  Gary Truck Accident Attorneys in Indiana Blog