The Bluffton University bus crash that killed seven here in Atlanta has been litigated heavily in Georgia and in Ohio. The injury lawyers here in Georgia representing the families knew immediately that liability and damages would not be the areas where good lawyering would be needed; it was in the area of insurance coverage litigation.
In a crash where responsibility squarely fell onto the shoulders of the bus driver and the State of Georgia DOT, there was little debate over the question of liability. Likewise for the five baseball players who tragically passed away in the crash, not to mention the numerous horrific orthopedic injuries suffered by the other players, it was well known that the potential damages in front of a jury exceeded $30 million. The crux of the problem all along was whether there would be enough money and insurance to pay the full value of the claims.
The bus company’s insurance policies were limited and so the lawyers had to focus their efforts on convincing the Ohio courts that the University’s own insurance policies, totaling some $16 million, should extend additional insurance coverage for the negligent actions of the bus driver.
The court summarized the issue as follows: Blufton University was covered by a commercial auto insurance policy and an umbrella policy with the Hartford Insurance Company, The bus company was a private company contracted to transport the team. The Hartford took the position that because they did not own the bus or employee the driver, that they did not provide additional insurance on top of the bus company’s insurance policy. As with all insurance policies, the key issue is what the language of the policy provides. The Hartford policy stated that insured people are anyone “while using with (the university’s) permission” a covered vehicle that the university “owned, hired or borrowed.”
The Court held that that the lower courts erred when they determined that Niemeyer was not an “insured” under the terms of Bluffton’s insurance policies.” Fed. Ins. Co. v. Executive Coach Luxury Travel, Inc., Slip Opinion No. 2010-Ohio-6300.
Allen App. Nos. 1-09-17 and 1-09-18, 2009-Ohio-5910
Fortunately, the families prevailed in this fight and there should be more insurance to help compensate them for this terrible loss. Georgia wrongful death lawyers face these type of sufficiency of insurance coverage problems in most wrongful death and catastrophic injury case.
We are handling a case for a student seriously injured in the Rheinhardt College embankment crash near Waleska, Georgia that is illustrative. The client sustained a compound femur fracture with an open reduction surgery in addition to losing her four upper front teeth and a skull fracture. At present it appears that the at fault driver has limited insurance that can be combined with the client’s added on Uninsured motorist insurance. A large part of our work going forward will involve an insurance and asset examination of the at fault student’s parent’s assets.
In the end, even the strongest liability and damage cases can have curtailed results depending on the amount of insurance available. These are the harsh realities of life.