Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore LIACOS; ABRAMS
Citation553 N.E.2d 909,407 Mass. 354
PartiesLIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY v. William J. TABOR et al. 1
Decision Date14 May 1990

Page 909

553 N.E.2d 909
407 Mass. 354
LIBERTY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY
v.
William J. TABOR et al. 1
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Plymouth.
Argued Jan. 10, 1990.
Decided May 14, 1990.

Page 910

Stephen T. Keefe, Jr., Weymouth, for plaintiff.

[407 Mass. 355] Clyde D. Bergstresser, Boston, for William J. Tabor.

Before [407 Mass. 354] LIACOS, C.J., and ABRAMS, NOLAN, LYNCH and O'CONNOR, JJ.

[407 Mass. 355] ABRAMS, Justice.

Liberty Mutual Insurance Company appeals from a judgment declaring that a business auto policy, which it issued to Embassy Motors, Ltd., doing business as Reliable Rentals and Rent-a-Relic (Embassy), afforded primary coverage beyond the compulsory liability limits to Catherine C. Skinner. Skinner rented a vehicle from Embassy, negligently drove the vehicle and severely injured William J. Tabor. On appeal, Liberty asserts that the judge erred in declaring that the business auto policy afforded noncompulsory liability insurance coverage to Skinner. Liberty contends that (1) Skinner was engaged in a "prohibited use" of the rental vehicle at the time of the accident; (2) she was not an "insured" for purposes of that policy's noncompulsory liability coverage; and (3) the business auto policy and a rental agreement incorporated in that policy by an amendatory endorsement limit the amount of liability coverage available to indemnify Skinner to the minimum compulsory liability coverage. See G.L. c. 90, § 34A (1988 ed.). We affirm the judgment.

The facts are not in dispute. Liberty issued two insurance policies to Embassy. One was a business auto policy, which provided two million dollars of noncompulsory

Page 911

liability insurance, and the other was an umbrella excess liability policy (umbrella policy) with a one million dollar liability limit. On February 2, 1985, Skinner rented an automobile from Embassy to use in place of her own car, which was being repaired. The Hanover Insurance Company (Hanover) had issued a Massachusetts automobile insurance policy to Skinner (Hanover policy), covering her own automobile, with liability limits of $100,000 per person and $300,000 per accident. On February 25, 1985, while operating the rented automobile, Skinner struck Tabor, a pedestrian, causing extensive bodily injury. Liberty, Tabor, and Hanover agree that, at the time of the accident, Skinner was negligent, under the influence of alcohol, and violating one or more State vehicle codes. Tabor sued Skinner in an action for negligent operation of a motor vehicle and obtained a judgment in the amount of $2,165,000, plus interest and costs.

[407 Mass. 356] Liberty commenced this case by seeking, alternatively, the declaration that (1) the business auto policy did not afford coverage to Skinner for any claims arising out of the accident; (2) the business auto policy did not afford coverage to Skinner beyond the compulsory liability limits; or (3) the coverage the business auto policy afforded to Skinner was secondary to that provided by the Hanover policy. 2 The trial judge allowed Liberty's motion to amend the complaint to add Hanover as a party defendant. Hanover filed an intervener complaint, a cross-complaint, and a motion for summary judgment. Tabor filed a motion for summary judgment and requested a declaration that full coverage from each of the three policies was available to pay the judgment entered in his favor against Skinner "as a result of any negligence by Skinner."

The judge allowed Tabor's motion for summary judgment and Hanover's motion to intervene as a plaintiff in the cross-claim. On Hanover's motion for summary judgment, the judge ordered that the noncompulsory liability coverage provided in Liberty's business auto policy was primary coverage for Tabor's damages and that, to the extent his recovery exceeded that amount, coverage would be provided in equal shares by Liberty's umbrella policy and the Hanover policy. She further ordered that, on exhaustion of the Hanover policy's three hundred thousand dollar coverage, any amount remaining on Liberty's umbrella policy would be applied against any remaining, unpaid damages to Tabor. Final judgment entered for Tabor pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 54(b ), 365 Mass. 820 (1974). Liberty appealed from allowance [407 Mass. 357] of Tabor's motion for summary judgment, the order on Hanover's motion for summary judgment, allowance of Tabor's motion for entry of final judgment, and entry of judgment. We transferred the case to this court on our own motion. We affirm the orders and judgment.

1. Prohibited Use. The business auto policy provided that two million dollars in noncompulsory motor vehicle liability insurance would be available to an "insured," defined as Embassy and "[a]nyone else ... while using with [Embassy's] permission a covered auto," subject to three exceptions not applicable here. The policy was subject to an "amendatory endorsement," however, which stated that "[t]he insurance provided by this policy for the lessee, rentee, its servants, agents, or employees or those using the automobile with or without the permission of the lessee or rentee or persons alleged to be legally responsible for the use of the automobile is subject to the terms, including any limit of liability, conditions, restrictions, and limitations contained in the lease or rental agreement." A boldfaced warning on the front page of the two-page rental agreement stated, "Warning:

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Only renter and additional driver are covered by insurance." 3

The "vehicle insurance" provision continued, providing in relevant part that the business auto policy "shall not apply ... to any liability of Customer or any driver ... arising while the Vehicle is being used in violation of any of the limitations set forth in Paragraph 2." Paragraph 2 listed "prohibited uses" of a rental vehicle and provided, in part, that a vehicle shall not be used "in violation of any federal, state or local laws. (If the Customer [renter] is negligent or violates any of [407 Mass. 358] the state vehicle codes or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the Customer is totally responsible for all damages to the Vehicle and for any other claims by any other parties.)"

The business auto policy expressly stated that Liberty "will pay [up to two million dollars to an insured] for any one accident or loss." The policy defined "accident" to include "continuous or repeated exposure to the same conditions resulting in bodily injury or property damage the insured neither expected nor intended." The term "accident," however, commonly is defined as "an unexpected happening without intention or design," Beacon Textiles Corp. v. Employers Mut. Liab. Ins. Co., 355 Mass. 643, 646, 246 N.E.2d 671 (1969), and cases cited; see Sheehan v. Goriansky, 321 Mass. 200, 205, 72 N.E.2d 538 (1947), and may include "[u]nintended or unforeseen consequences of reckless or negligent acts." Vappi & Co., Inc. v. Aetna Casualty & Sur. Co., 348 Mass. 427, 432, 204 N.E.2d 273 (1965), and cases cited. See Quincy Mut. Fire Ins. Co. v. Abernathy, 393 Mass. 81, 84, 469 N.E.2d 797 (1984). Under this definition, the business auto policy, standing alone, would cover an insured's negligent acts despite paragraph 2 ("prohibited uses").

The rental agreement, however, redefines the term "accident" as defined in the policy, by excluding...

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29 practice notes
  • Santos v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 16 Julio 1990
    ...or violates public policy, it may be held invalid even if, upon a close reading, the terms are clear. See Liberty Mut. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 358, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990); Lechmere Tire & Sales Co. v. Burwick, supra. Cf. Minassian v. Ogden Suffolk Downs, Inc., 400 Mass. 490, 492, 509 N.......
  • Worcester Ins. Co. v. Fells Acres Day School, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 22 Agosto 1990
    ...that, where an insurer drafts the policy ... all ambiguities are resolved against the insurer." Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 362, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990), quoting Transamerica Ins. Co. v. Norfolk & Dedham Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 361 Mass. 144, 147, 279 N.E.2d 686 (1972). See Qui......
  • Mahoney v. Am. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 12–P–163.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 3 Octubre 2013
    ...owner's consent to the immediate conduct of the user at the moment of an accident is immaterial”).4 See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 360, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990) (phrase “while using with permission” refers to question whether insured has been given “authority to operate” or......
  • Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Field, Nos. 11–1316
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 22 Febrero 2012
    ...Liability Coverage has no value to them if coverage for this type of physical abuse is excluded. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 553 N.E.2d 909, 912 (1990) (“A provision in an insurance policy that negates the very coverage that the policy purports to provide in the circu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Santos v. Lumbermens Mut. Cas. Co.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 16 Julio 1990
    ...or violates public policy, it may be held invalid even if, upon a close reading, the terms are clear. See Liberty Mut. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 358, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990); Lechmere Tire & Sales Co. v. Burwick, supra. Cf. Minassian v. Ogden Suffolk Downs, Inc., 400 Mass. 490, 492, 509 N.......
  • Worcester Ins. Co. v. Fells Acres Day School, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 22 Agosto 1990
    ...that, where an insurer drafts the policy ... all ambiguities are resolved against the insurer." Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 362, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990), quoting Transamerica Ins. Co. v. Norfolk & Dedham Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 361 Mass. 144, 147, 279 N.E.2d 686 (1972). See Qui......
  • Mahoney v. Am. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 12–P–163.
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • 3 Octubre 2013
    ...owner's consent to the immediate conduct of the user at the moment of an accident is immaterial”).4 See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 360, 553 N.E.2d 909 (1990) (phrase “while using with permission” refers to question whether insured has been given “authority to operate” or......
  • Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Field, Nos. 11–1316
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 22 Febrero 2012
    ...Liability Coverage has no value to them if coverage for this type of physical abuse is excluded. See Liberty Mut. Ins. Co. v. Tabor, 407 Mass. 354, 553 N.E.2d 909, 912 (1990) (“A provision in an insurance policy that negates the very coverage that the policy purports to provide in the circu......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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