California Auto. Ins. Co. v. Hogan

Decision Date29 October 2003
Docket NumberNo. B161245.,B161245.
Citation112 Cal.App.4th 1292,5 Cal.Rptr.3d 761
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesCALIFORNIA AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff, Cross-defendant and Respondent, v. Eva HOGAN et al., Defendants, Cross-complainants and Appellants.

DOI TODD, J.

Defendants and cross-complainants, the legal heirs and estate of John V. Hogan, appeal the summary judgment entered in favor of respondent, California Automobile Insurance Company (CAIC), on respondent's complaint for declaratory relief and appellants' cross-complaint for breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and professional negligence. The issue presented in this appeal is whether the fatal injuries Mr. Hogan suffered during an altercation with an uninsured motorist while exchanging information following a traffic accident are covered under the uninsured motorist provisions of Mr. Hogan's automobile insurance policy issued by CAIC. We conclude they are not and affirm the judgment.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A car being driven by John V. Hogan was involved in a minor traffic accident with a motorcycle being driven by Giuseppe Lionetti. Mr. Hogan and his wife immediately got out of their car to speak to Mr. Lionetti, who had gotten off his motorcycle. In response to Mrs. Hogan's inquiry whether Mr. Lionetti and his passenger were all right, Mr. Lionetti responded that they were, but became irate, demanding to know who would pay for the damage. When Mr. Hogan asked Mr. Lionetti whether he had insurance, Mr. Lionetti became belligerent, and did not respond to Mr. Hogan's request to see his driver's license. Fearful of Mr. Lionetti because of his large, muscular build and his escalating anger, Mrs. Hogan ran to a nearby telephone to call the police. While she was gone, Mr. Lionetti punched Mr. Hogan in the face, knocking him to the ground, where he hit the back of his head on the pavement. When Mrs. Hogan returned, she found her husband lying unconscious and bleeding on the ground. Mr. Lionetti was leaving the scene on his motorcycle.

Mr. Hogan died five days later. The coroner concluded that "[t]he cause of death is sequelae of craniocerebral trauma. The manner of death is homicide." Mr. Lionetti pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to state prison.

At the time of the accident and Mr. Hogan's death, an automobile liability insurance policy issued by CAIC to Mr. Hogan was in effect, which included uninsured motorist bodily injury coverage. Under Coverage H of the policy, "Damages for Bodily Injury Caused by Uninsured Motor Vehicles," CAIC agreed "[t]o pay all sums which an insured or his legal representative shall be legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner, or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle because of bodily injury, sustained by an insured, caused by accident and arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of such uninsured motor vehicles...."1 For purposes of its summary judgment motion, CAIC conceded that Mr. Lionetti's vehicle qualified as an uninsured motor vehicle pursuant to Insurance Code section 11580.2, subdivision (b) and the CAIC policy definition of "uninsured motor vehicle."

After Mr. Hogan's death, appellants made a claim to CAIC for uninsured motorist bodily injury benefits under the policy. CAIC denied coverage and filed the instant action for declaratory relief. Appellants then filed a cross-complaint against CAIC which, at the time the summary judgment motion was heard, alleged claims for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and professional negligence.

The trial court granted CAIC's motion for summary judgment on the ground that Mr. Hogan's bodily injury did not arise out of Mr. Lionetti's use of the uninsured motor vehicle. The court entered judgment in favor of CAIC on its complaint for declaratory relief and against appellants on their cross-complaint. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

The sole issue before us is whether Mr. Lionetti's liability for Mr. Hogan's fatal injury can be said to arise out of the use of Mr. Lionetti's uninsured motorcycle within the meaning of the uninsured motorist provision in the CAIC policy issued to Mr. Hogan. "Interpretation of the insurance policy presents a question of law for this court to decide. (Waller v. Truck Ins. Exchange, Inc. (1995) 11 Cal.4th 1, 18 [44 Cal.Rptr.2d 370, 900 P.2d 619]; State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Partridge (1973) 10 Cal.3d 94, 100 [109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123] [Partridge ].)" (Interinsurance Exchange v. Flores (1996) 45 Cal. App.4th 661, 668, 53 Cal.Rptr .2d 18.) In this case the pertinent facts are undisputed, and we consider those facts together with the language of the CAIC insurance policy to determine whether coverage for Mr. Hogan's injuries exists.

A. Standard of Review

On appeal from a summary judgment we undertake a de novo review of the proceedings below, and independently examine the record to determine whether triable issues of material fact exist. (Saelzler v. Advanced Group 400 (2001) 25 Cal.4th 763, 767, 107 Cal.Rptr.2d 617, 23 P.3d 1143; Kids' Universe v. In2Labs (2002) 95 Cal.App.4th 870, 878, 116 Cal.Rptr .2d 158.) We review the trial court's ruling, not its rationale; thus, we are not bound by the trial court's stated reasons for granting summary judgment. (Kids' Universe, supra, at p. 878, 116 Cal.Rptr.2d 158.)

B. "Use" of the Uninsured Vehicle

In determining the meaning of the phrase "arising out of the ... use" of the uninsured motor vehicle in the context of the CAIC policy here, we reject a "but for" causation analysis, and adopt the "predominating cause/substantial factor test," which has been applied by the majority of California courts that have considered the issue.

Our Supreme Court has explained that the phrase "`arising out of the use,'" when used in a coverage or insuring clause of an insurance policy, has "broad and comprehensive application." (Partridge, supra, 10 Cal.3d at p. 100, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.) "It affords coverage for injuries where the insured vehicle bears `almost any causal relation' to the accident at issue, however minimal." (Interinsurance Exchange v. Flores, supra, 45 Cal.App.4th at p. 668, 53 Cal.Rptr .2d 18, citing Partridge, supra, at pp. 100-101, fns. 7 & 8, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.)

In Partridge, a passenger in the insured's truck was accidentally shot while the insured was driving the truck off-road hunting jackrabbits. The insured had manipulated the trigger mechanism of his pistol so that the gun would have a "`hair trigger action.'" When the truck hit a bump, the gun discharged and caused injury to the insured's passenger. (Partridge, supra, 10 Cal.3d at pp. 97-98, 109 Cal. Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.) While the insurer disputed coverage under a homeowner's policy, coverage under the driver's automobile liability policy, which extended coverage to injuries "`caused by accident arising out of the ... use ... of the owned motor vehicle'" (id. at p. 98, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123) was not in dispute. The court nevertheless discussed this issue, noting that providing coverage for a "shooting" accident did not conflict with a long line of cases finding no automobile coverage for somewhat similar accidents. "Whenever circumstances reveal that the insured vehicle did bear some, albeit slight, causal connection with the shooting accident, courts have generally permitted recovery under automobile liability polices." (Id. at p. 101, fn. 8, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.) The court concluded that the policy provided coverage for the passenger's injuries. (Id. at pp. 98, 100-101, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.) The court explained: "The California cases uniformly hold that the `use' of an automobile need not amount to a `proximate cause' of the accident for coverage to follow. [Citations.]" (Id. at p. 100, fn. 7, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.) Although there must be "[s]ome minimal causal connection between the vehicle and an accident," even a slight causal connection between the use of the vehicle and the accident is sufficient. (Id. at pp. 100-101, fns. 7 & 8, 109 Cal.Rptr. 811, 514 P.2d 123.)

Noting that the requisite causal connection to trigger coverage had not been defined by any California case, the court in Partridge compared the two icases that had previously defined the parameters of the issue: Universal Underwriters Ins. Co. v. Aetna Ins. Co. (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 144, 57 Cal.Rptr. 240, and Truck Ins. Exchange v. Webb (1967) 256 Cal.App.2d 140, 63 Cal.Rptr. 791 (Webb). In Universal Underwriters, the liability policy covered "damages ... caused by accident and arising out of certain defined hazards which included "the ownership, maintenance or use of any automobile." (Id. at pp. 149-150, 57 Cal.Rptr. 240.) The issue in that case was whether the policy covered damages resulting from a collision which was due to the negligent repair of the car rather than negligent driving. The court concluded that it did. The court noted that the policy did not require that liability arise from negligence while using the vehicle: "`The term "using" when employed in a policy without restrictive terms, must be understood in its most comprehensive sense. It does not require that the injury be the direct and proximate result in any strict legal sense of the active movement of the motor vehicle covered by the policy.'

[Citations.]" (Id. at p. 150, 57 Cal.Rptr. 240.)

On the other hand, the court in Webb required that use of the vehicle be a "`predominating cause' or a `substantial factor' in causing the injury." (Webb, supra, 256 Cal.App.2d at p. 148, 63 Cal.Rptr. 791.) The...

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