Insurance Law Alert: Negligent Supervision Claim for Driveway Accident Barred by Auto Exclusion in Homeowners Policy

In Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Superior Court (No. B248234A, filed 10/1/13), a California appeals court held that a wife’s alleged negligent supervision in allowing a child to get outside where she was run over is not sufficiently independent from the husband’s use of the car to avoid the automobile exclusion in their homeowner’s policy.

In Farmers, the husband and wife were insured under homeowners and automobile liability policies issued by Farmers. Their young granddaughter got outside the house, where she was run over by the husband coming home from work. They were sued for negligence and negligent supervision, and Farmers provided a defense. Following entry of an adverse judgment, Farmers filed an action for declaratory relief contending that there was no coverage under the homeowners policy, which excluded bodily injury arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.

The child’s parents argued that the negligent supervision by the wife was an independent concurrent cause of the injury and, therefore, not barred by the auto exclusion. The court cited State Farm v. Partridge (1973) 10 Cal.3d 94 for the rule that when two independent risks constitute concurrent proximate causes of an accident, the insurer is liable so long as one of the causes is covered by the policy. The Farmers court then cited a long list of other California cases establishing a continuum of authority where a loss was either covered or excluded depending on whether multiple causes were deemed to be independent concurrent causes of the loss.

In Partridge, the insured’s negligence in filing the firing mechanism of a gun to give it a hair trigger was deemed an independent concurrent cause, and thus not barred by an auto exclusion, because the resulting injury could have occurred anywhere, and not just inside the insured’s auto when it struck a bump. By contrast, coverage was excluded in National American v. Coburn (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 914, where a van being loaded for a trip rolled over a child in the insured’s driveway. The Coburn court said that none of the alleged negligence, including the negligent supervision of the child, existed independently of the insured’s use and loading of the vehicle.

The Farmers court agreed with Coburn and distinguished Partridge, holding that the motor vehicle played an active role in causing the injury and involved no instrumentality other than the vehicle itself, so there would have been no accident without the use or operation of the vehicle. The court said that the supervision was negligent only because it exposed the child to the danger of negligent automobile use. The wife’s negligence was sufficiently related to the use of the vehicle and part of a course of uninterrupted conduct that it fell within the auto exclusion of the homeowners policy.

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October 29, 2013