Auto Insurance and Intentional Torts

This kind of case comes up about once every 2 or 3 years for me: Person is driving and hits a pedestrian or other car. The allegation is that maybe the driver meant to hit them. So, does their auto liability policy cover the plaintiff’s damages?

My professional answer is, “Maybe.” But there’s a lot of wiggle-room here.

The basic auto policy in NC will exclude coverage for intentional acts. But let’s talk about what that means and why it’s important…

Most injury claims are brought on the premise that the defendant was negligent, meaning they didn’t mean to cause any harm, but they just made a poor decision and there were consequences. This is the old I was adjusting my radio or I was looking at a text and ran into someone kind of thing. You meant to look at your phone, but you didn’t mean to run into someone.

That’s to be contrasted with intentional acts. That’s when someone chose to act in a certain way with the goal of causing harm. That’s not the real legal definition, but I’m not tryna explain “malice aforethought” to y’all. Just contrast making a mistake (negligence) with doing something on purpose (intent).

There are a few issues you might already see. First, how do you prove someone’s intent? How can we ever know, without the person confessing, that they meant to run you over on purpose? Second, what was intentional? Did you mean to kinda bump them with the car? Or was your goal to murder them? Or somewhere in between? There’s a lot to unpack in there!

So, let’s say the facts are the defendant was backing out of their parking space and your jacket was stuck in their car door. Then they run over your foot and drag you for a few feet before you become unstuck. Was that intentional? Does the answer change if they drove off really quickly in a huff because you two were arguing? Maybe. Probably. This is why it’s so fact-dependent.

These cases can be tricky. Call a lawyer and get some help. 919-929-2992.

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Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
1829 E. Franklin St. - Bldg 600
Chapel Hill, NC 27514

(P) 919-929-2992
(F) 919-636-4779

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