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By Tristan 

Insurer doesn't have to pay dragging death claim

 


HELEN (AP) — The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the family of a man who was run over and dragged by a cement truck is not covered under the vehicle's insurance policy because he did not technically "occupy" the truck.

Terry Richerson's widow had asked the state's high court to overturn a lower court's ruling that The Cincinnati Insurance Company did not have to pay for Richerson's medical and funeral bills from the accident at a construction site on the Benefis Healthcare campus in Great Falls.

The insurance company argued that Richerson was not covered by the vehicle's policy because he was not an occupant and had no connection to it when he was run over on Nov. 2, 2005.

Deborah Richerson's attorney, Benjamin Graybill, said her husband was an occupant because he was dragged up to 50 feet by the cement truck that had backed over him, and that the insurance company should pay for the bills, which totaled more than $127,000.

In a unanimous opinion released Friday, the state's high court ruled that to "occupy" the truck, Richerson had to have a broader connection other than being struck by it.

"He was not working with the truck in any way and was not entering or exiting the truck. He had no purpose or connection with the truck other than the incidental contact that led to his unfortunate injuries and death," wrote Justice Jim Rice.

Richerson, 40, was one of two concrete finishing subcontractors at the construction site. As he was leaving an outhouse at the site, a concrete truck employed by the other subcontractor and owned by United Materials backed over him.

His jacket got caught in one of the drive shafts and he was dragged between five and 50 feet, according to court documents. Richerson was taken to the hospital, where he underwent emergency surgeries, but died that evening.

The Cincinnati Insurance Company's policy said reasonable medical and funeral expenses will be paid for anyone who is occupying a vehicle that is covered by the policy, with "occupying" defined as "in, upon, getting in, on, out or off" the vehicle.

Graybill argued that Richerson's circumstances fit that definition because he was "upon" the vehicle that had dragged him.

The insurance company responded with an argument the justices agreed with, in that previous court decisions required a reasonable connection between the vehicle and the victim for the victim be covered by the policy.

A separate lawsuit filed by Richerson's estate over liability for the accident was settled last year with several groups, including United Materials. The terms were confidential.

Graybill did not return a call for comment on Monday.

 

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