Hartley v. Elec. Ins. Co.

Decision Date17 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 2005–903.,2005–903.
Citation919 A.2d 808,154 N.H. 687
CourtNew Hampshire Supreme Court
Parties Craig HARTLEY v. ELECTRIC INSURANCE COMPANY.

Moquin & Daley, P.A., of Manchester (Richard C. Moquin on the brief and orally), for the plaintiff.

Upton & Hatfield, LLP, of Concord (Russell F. Hilliard & a. on the brief, and Mr. Hilliard orally), for the defendant.

GALWAY, J.

The petitioner, Craig Hartley, appeals an order of the Trial Court (Fitzgerald, J.) ruling that he was not entitled to uninsured motorist coverage under his automobile insurance policy issued by the respondent, Electric Insurance Company (EIC). We reverse and remand.

The parties submitted a stipulation of facts for the purpose of resolving the coverage issue. It provided that the petitioner "was involved in an incident while within the scope of his employment" driving a large truck. When an unidentified vehicle failed to yield the right of way to the petitioner, he was forced "to jam on his brakes," which caused the straps holding a box saw in his truck to break and the saw to shift. The petitioner thought he had been struck by the vehicle behind him and stopped his truck. When he observed that the saw had shifted and was now leaning over the gate of the truck, he pulled the truck to the side of the road to reposition it. He then saw gasoline pouring from the saw onto the roadway. When he attempted to move the saw to resecure it, he suffered injuries for which he sought coverage under the uninsured motorist provision of his policy.

The petitioner's policy provided that EIC "will pay compensatory damages which an ‘insured’ is legally entitled to recover from the owner or operator of ‘an uninsured motor vehicle’ because of ‘bodily injury’ ... caused by an accident." The sole issue before us is whether the petitioner suffered a bodily injury caused by an accident and hence was entitled to coverage under the policy.

Our review in this case is limited to the interpretation and application of the petitioner's insurance contract. See State Farm Mut. Ins. Co. v. Pitman, 148 N.H. 499, 501, 809 A.2d 1280 (2002). The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law that we review de novo. EnergyNorth Natural Gas v. Continental Ins. Co., 146 N.H. 156, 159, 781 A.2d 969 (2001). We construe the language as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole. Godbout v. Lloyd's Ins. Syndicates, 150 N.H. 103, 105, 834 A.2d 360 (2003). Policy terms are construed objectively; where the terms are clear and unambiguous, we accord the language its natural and ordinary meaning. Id.

In this case, the trial court concluded that the petitioner was not injured as a result of an accident, but rather as the result of an intentional act by the insured that broke the chain of causation. We have previously held that "accident" is reasonably understood to mean "an undesigned contingency, ... a happening by chance, something out of the usual course of things, unusual, fortuitous, not anticipated, and not naturally to be expected." Marikar v. Peerless Ins. Co., 151 N.H. 395, 398, 855 A.2d 1246 (2004). As EIC correctly states, the accident occurred in this case "when the phantom vehicle allegedly failed to yield the right of way to Hartley causing him to jam on his brakes and cut to the left to avoid striking that vehicle." We then must determine whether the accident caused the injury for coverage purposes.

Webster's Third New International Dictionary 356 (unabridged ed.2002) defines to "cause"...

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6 cases
  • Nat'l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburgh, PA v. NGM Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of New Hampshire
    • December 21, 2011
    ...Supreme Court has not interpreted the phrase, "caused, in whole or in part," as it is used in NGM's policy. In Hartley v. Elec. Ins. Co., 154 N.H. 687, 689 (2007), the court construed the phrase "injury caused by an accident" to require a connection between the accident and the resulting ha......
  • State v. Huffman
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    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • January 17, 2007
  • Webster v. Acadia Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • October 17, 2007
    ...887 A.2d 1128. The interpretation of insurance policy language is a question of law, which we review de novo. Hartley v. Elec. Ins. Co., 154 N.H. 687, 688, 919 A.2d 808 (2007). We construe the language as would a reasonable person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual......
  • Brickley v. Progressive N. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • New Hampshire Supreme Court
    • August 19, 2010
    ...person in the position of the insured based upon a more than casual reading of the policy as a whole." Hartley v. Elec. Ins. Co., 154 N.H. 687, 688, 919 A.2d 808 (2007). "If more than one reasonable interpretation is possible, and an interpretation provides coverage, the policy contains an ......
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