In Citizens Property Insurance Corporation v. Cook, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals looks at a unique legal question arising under tragic circumstances: whether and to what extent the homeowner’s insurance policy of an adult who allegedly allowed minors to drink at the home covers injuries incurred in a fatal car accident later the same night.
The case centered around a tragic Ocala-area car accident in which two teenage girls were killed and another was severely injured. The girls had attended a party at a friend’s home on the night of the accident and the home’s owner allegedly either served alcoholic drinks or allowed them to be served to the girls and other teenagers in attendance. The homeowner held an insurance policy with Citizens Property Insurance Company. “The minors became intoxicated, drove away from the party in a motor vehicle, and were involved in a serious car crash,” the court later explained.
Personal representatives for the two girls who were killed filed a lawsuit against Citizens and the homeowner. They also asked for a trial court to interpret a provision in the home insurance policy limiting payments to $100,000 per “occurrence” causing personal injury or property damage. The representatives argued that each drink that the girls were allowed to consume was a separate “occurrence” under the policy. The trial court agreed, finding that the representatives had alleged multiple occurrences under the policy. The trial judge relied on the state supreme court’s 2003 decision in Koikos v. Travelers Insurance, in which the court ruled that an intruder’s firing of three rounds from a firearm during an incident in a restaurant were separate occurrences under the relevant insurance policy.
The Fifth District reversed the decision on appeal, however. The appeals court explained that, in Koikos, “[t]he supreme court held that the proper focus should be on the act that causes the damage, the gunshots, not Koikos’s failure to protect his patrons.” In other words, the appeals court said, it must look at the act that actually causes the damage, rather than the underlying negligence or other tort.
In this case, the court said the act that caused the damage was the car accident, not the alcohol ingestion. “[H]ere, the immediate cause of [the] deaths was the car crash,” not the “underlying activity of allowing alcohol to be consumed by the minors at the party, although that was, no doubt, a factor,” the court concluded. As a result, the court said there was only one “occurrence” that may be covered under the insurance policy.
Despite this ruling, it is important to keep in mind that the personal representatives may allege other claims related to the accident against all responsible parties, including by suing the homeowners personally for negligence.
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in Florida, contact the South Florida car accident lawyers at Anidjar & Levine. From offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Hialeah, Coral Springs, Boca Raton and Pompano Beach. Call us toll-free at 800-747-3733 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
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