Texas justices rule against insurance company in injured child case

Chris Rizo Apr. 17, 2009, 2:00pm

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)- An insurance company must pay a claim for a child who was injured by a truck that was fleeing police, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The child's parents, Greg and Maribel Tanner, sued the driver's insurance company but were denied a share of his $300,000 insurance policy.

The insurance company in the case -- Ohio-based Nationwide Mutual Fire Insurance Co.-- said it did not have to pay the claim because the driver of the truck, Richard Gibbons, was eluding police at the time of the 1999 accident, an act that violated his insurance policy.

Gibbons had been driving his Ford F-350 truck on Interstate 35, south of San Marcos, when he was pulled over by a Texas state trooper. He initially stopped for police but then fled before he was finally arrested.

"While leading police on a protracted high-speed chase is not merely reckless but reprehensible, we cannot say on this record that no reasonable juror could resist finding that injury to others was unavoidable," the high court ruled.

" In fact, the chase could have ended in any number of ways: with Gibbons rolling his vehicle, with Gibbons hitting a fixed object, with officers using preventive techniques to stop Gibbons' vehicle, or even with officers discontinuing the pursuit, rather than with Gibbons crashing into the Tanners. Nationwide therefore did not establish as a matter of law that the Tanners' injuries were "caused intentionally" under the exclusion."

Court papers say Gibbons took police on a high-speed chase through the town of San Marcos in excess of 80 miles per hour.

While evading police, Gibbons ran an intersection, crashing into the vehicle carrying the Tanner family. The four family members inside the car were injured. Roney Tanner, 7, suffered the most severe injuries because he was seated on the side of the car where Gibbons hit.

Gibbons fled the scene and was later arrested after police shot out his tires, court papers say.

Roney was left comatose for a week and went through five years of physical therapy.

After the accident, the Tanners sued Nationwide Mutual and obtained a default judgment.

The company refused to pay damages, arguing the intentional-injury exclusion barred coverage for the Tanners' claims.

"Because Nationwide did not establish as a matter of law that Gibbons intentionally caused the Tanners' injuries, the jury's verdict must stand," the high court ruled. "Accordingly, we reverse the court of appeals' judgment and render judgment on the jury verdict."

From Legal Newsline: Reach staff reporter Chris Rizo at chrisrizo@legalnewsline.com.

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