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Vol. 3, Iss. 14
October 6, 2014


The Thank You Wave
And Insurance Coverage

I’ve never been to Indiana. I’m sure that the folks there are awfully courteous – especially in a small town. And that was definitely a factor in the court’s decision in this coverage case. But even so, it is still inexplicable.

The Indiana trial court’s decision in Hamilton v. Bloomington Property & Casualty Insurance Company, Circuit Court of Indiana, Jasper County, No. 14-104 (Sept. 23, 2014) started out like this. David Woodhall approached a four-way stop intersection. At virtually the same time Chris Hamilton approached the intersection. It was either a tie who got there first or, according to Hamilton, maybe it was him by a split second. Hamilton gave Woodhall a hand signal for him to proceed first. Woodhall crossed the intersection. But he failed to give Hamilton a thank you wave as he did. Hamilton became incensed by what he viewed as a very serious breach of driver courtesy. Hamilton then proceeded to follow Woodhall. After about two miles, Woodhall pulled into the parking lot of a Circle K convenience store and went inside. Hamilton followed Woodhall in and approached him. Hamilton, in an angry voice, told Woodhall that he failed to give him a thank you wave when Hamilton let him proceed first at the intersection of Main and East 7th. Before Woodhall could say anything, Hamilton pushed him hard in the chest. Woodhall fell backwards into a potato chip display stand and suffered a broken elbow.

Woodhall sued Hamilton for the injuries sustained. Hamilton sought coverage from his homeowner’s insurer--Bloomington Property & Casualty Insurance Company. Not surprisingly, Bloomington disclaimed coverage, citing the policy’s exclusion for injuries that are expected or intended from the standpoint of the insured. Hamilton was forced to defend himself in the litigation. For various procedural reasons, Woodhall’s complaint was dismissed – but not before Hamilton incurred $14,000 in defense costs.

Hamilton filed a declaratory judgment action against Bloomington, alleging that it breached its duty to defend, and seeking payment of his defense costs. Each party filed a motion for summary judgment.

The trial court held that Bloomington breached its duty to defend. It looked to the Indiana Supreme Court’s decision in Freidline v. Shelby Ins. Co., 774 N.E.2d 37 (Ind. 2002) that the duty to defend is not determined solely by the allegations in the complaint. Therefore, the court held that Bloomington breached its duty to defend by not considering that, when Hamilton pushed Woodhall, Hamilton was still operating under the rage of having been denied a thank you wave. Therefore, the court held that a duty to defend existed because of the possibility that the self-defense exception, to the expected or intended exclusion, applied. The court looked to the Indiana Court of Appeals’s recent statement in Key v. Hamilton, 963 N.E.2d 573, 591 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012) (no relation) (Mathias, J., dissenting) and was clearly influenced by it: “Hoosiers can be rightfully proud that the courtesy of yielding to other drivers is still rather commonplace in Indiana.”

Based on this pronouncement in Key, the court held: “When a Hoosier driver is deprived a thank you wave, therefore being the victim of an egregious breach of driver etiquette, the standard in Freidline entitles him to a determination whether, under the circumstances, his subsequent push of the offending driver was tantamount to self-defense against what was the equivalent of an assault to the disrespected driver’s sensibilities.” (emphasis in original).

That’s my time. I’m Randy Spencer. Randy.Spencer@coverageopinions.info

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