In Farmers Insurance Exchange v. Superior Court, which was published on October 28, 2013, the California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District) held that a homeowners insurance policy which excluded coverage for an injury resulting from the use of a motor vehicle did not cover a negligent supervision claim involving the death of a child who was run over by a truck driven by one of the insureds.
Farmers Insurance Exchange issued a homeowners insurance policy to Jose and Sara Bautista. The policy provided liability coverage for bodily injuries; however, the policy excluded coverage for a bodily injury resulting from the use of a motor vehicle.
The Bautistas’ granddaughter, Valerie, was killed in the driveway of the Bautistas’ house when Jose Bautista ran over her with his pickup truck. The child was in the care of Sara Bautista at the time of the accident.
Valerie’s mother filed a lawsuit against the Bautistas, alleging negligent supervision. Farmers filed a motion for summary adjudication based on the company’s contention that the motor vehicle exclusion in the homeowners’ policy precluded any potential coverage for the negligent supervision lawsuit. The trial court denied Farmers’ motion. The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court’s decision.
The Court of Appeal’s opinion reviews several California appellate court decisions involving negligence claims and the motor vehicle exclusion in homeowners’ insurance policies. The court in State Farm v. Partridge, the leading case in this area of the law, found that the exclusion did not apply to a situation where a rider in a vehicle driven by an insured was injured when a pistol, which was modified by the insured, discharged. The Partridge court concluded that the motor vehicle exclusion in the insured’s homeowners’ insurance policy did not apply because the insured’s negligent modification of the pistol was independent of the insured’s use of his car.
In this case, the Court of Appeal observed that, in order for the Partridge ruling to apply, there must be two negligent acts or omissions of the insured, one of which, independently of the excluded cause, renders the insured liable for the resulting injuries. The court reasoned that Partridge did not apply to this case because “Sara’s alleged negligent supervision would not have rendered her and Jose liable independently of Jose’s driving of his vehicle, and was not a ‘totally independent’ cause of Valerie’s death. … Sara’s negligent supervision was not ‘separate and independent’ of Jose’s negligent automobile use because there was only one way, one place, and one time Sara’s negligence could give rise to liability: when Jose arrived home in his truck.”
The Court of Appeal ordered the trial court to grant Farmers’ motion for summary adjudication that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the Bautistas under the homeowners’ insurance policy.
The Court of Appeal’s opinion is available at www.courts.ca.gov