APPEAL FROM THE TWENTY-FOURTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT PARISH
OF JEFFERSON, STATE OF LOUISIANA NO. 769-957, DIVISION
"F" HONORABLE MICHAEL P. MENTZ, JUDGE PRESIDING
COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, LLOYD'S SYNDICATE 1861
Harry E. Morse
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE, DARWIN NATIONAL ASSURANCE
COMPANY Judy Y. Barrasso, Michael A. Balascio, Chloe M.
composed of Judges Marc E. Johnson, Robert A. Chaisson, and
Stephen J. Windhorst
A. CHAISSON, JUDGE.
insurance coverage dispute arising out of a multiple-impact
automobile collision resulting in multiple injured victims,
Lloyd's Syndicate 1861 ("Lloyd's") appeals
a June 27, 2017 judgment of the trial court denying its
motion for summary judgment and granting a cross-motion for
summary judgment filed by Darwin National Assurance Company
("Darwin"). For the following reasons, we affirm
the judgment of the trial court.
& PROCEDURAL HISTORY
morning of September 10, 2013, Mr. James Hyde, Jr., was
driving his pickup truck approximately 70 miles per hour in
the right lane of the elevated U.S. 90B West Bank Expressway.
As he approached the Barataria Boulevard exit, Mr. Hyde
rear-ended a pickup truck driven by Mrs. Shannon Riggio,
striking the rear of her vehicle several times over a
distance of approximately four-tenths of a mile. Mr. Todd
Riggio was a passenger in that vehicle. The several impacts
from Mr. Hyde's vehicle caused the Riggio vehicle to spin
across several travel lanes and strike the center bridge
rail. Mr. Hyde alleges that at the time of this initial
impact he was knocked unconscious by the deployment of his
airbag and does not remember anything else from that point on
about the collision until being removed from his vehicle by
emergency medical technicians.
Hyde's vehicle continued to travel forward at about 60 to
70 miles per hour in the right lane of the elevated
expressway. Approximately two-tenths of a mile from his last
impact with the Riggio vehicle, as he approached the entrance
to the Barataria Boulevard right-exit down ramp, Mr.
Hyde's vehicle struck the right side of a minivan driven
by Ms. Carol Patai, before proceeding to the right, down the
ramp towards Barataria Boulevard. Mr. Hyde's vehicle
struck the down ramp retaining walls at least twice while
traveling down the ramp. After exiting the ramp, Mr.
Hyde's vehicle crossed four traffic lanes on the
ground-level expressway service road and struck the rear
corner of an SUV driven by Ms. Tresia Bonds that was stopped
in the far right lane of the service road at the Avenue D
Mr. Hyde's vehicle, while still traveling approximately
60 miles per hour, crossed the northbound lanes of Avenue D
and the median, struck a SUV driven by Ms. Kimberly Knoten in
the left southbound lane of Avenue D, and finally came to a
stop. Tyrone Vicks, Jr., an eight-year-old child who was a
passenger in Ms. Knoten's vehicle, was seriously injured
in this last collision.
to the police reports, the total distance traveled by Mr.
Hyde's vehicle from its initial impact with the Riggio
vehicle to the final impact with the Knoten vehicle was
approximately nine-tenths of a mile. Attached to the third police
report was a written statement of Ms. Angela Aubrey, a
witness to all four impacts, who indicated that throughout
the incident Mr. Hyde's vehicle was traveling at a high
rate of speed. Ms. Aubrey did not indicate that Mr.
Hyde's vehicle slowed or came to a stop at any time
during this incident until after it struck Ms. Knoten's
day of this incident, there were three separate insurance
policies in effect that provided coverage to Mr. Hyde: a
personal automobile insurance policy issued to Mr. Hyde by
Geico Casualty Insurance Company ("Geico"); a
marine general liability policy issued by Darwin to Mr.
Hyde's employer, B & D Contracting, Inc.; and an
excess policy issued by Lloyd's to B & D Contracting,
Inc. The Riggios, Ms. Knoten, and Tyrone Vicks, Sr. (on
behalf of his son, Tyrone, Jr.) filed suit against Mr. Hyde,
his employer, B & D Contracting, Inc., and their
insurers, in the 24th Judicial District Court. That lawsuit
settled before trial for an amount well in excess of $1, 000,
000. At the time of that settlement, Darwin paid $1, 000, 000
to some of the plaintiffs, and Lloyd's, as the excess
insurer, paid additional funds to the other plaintiffs for
the relinquishment of those plaintiffs'
March 15, 2017, Lloyd's filed a petition for damages
against Darwin seeking to recover funds it paid in settlement
of the Vicks lawsuit, contending that Darwin was responsible
for the payment of those amounts under the terms of its
insurance policy. Subsequent to Darwin answering the
petition, both Lloyd's and Darwin filed cross-motions for
summary judgment on the issue of the amount of coverage
provided by the Darwin policy. The parties did not dispute
that the Darwin policy provided a $1, 000, 000 per occurrence
limit, and a $2, 000, 000 aggregate limit for any one policy
period. The parties disagreed, however, as to whether this
incident was one occurrence, as that term was defined in the
Darwin policy, thus triggering the $1, 000, 000 per
occurrence limit, or whether it was multiple occurrences,
thus triggering the $2, 000, 000 aggregate limit.
motion for summary judgment, Lloyd's, in arguing that Mr.
Hyde's incident was more than one occurrence and that
Darwin was therefore responsible for its $2, 000, 000
aggregate limit, contended that "Louisiana case law
holds that when accidents are separated by time and space,
there are multiple accidents and multiple occurrences."
To the contrary, Darwin, in its motion for summary judgment,
in arguing that Mr. Hyde's incident was one occurrence
for which it was only responsible for its $1, 000, 000 per
occurrence limit, contended that "a multi-impact
accident is a single 'occurrence' when the collisions
are an unbroken chain of events and the driver does not
regain control of the vehicle."
a hearing on the cross-motions for summary judgment, the
trial court denied Lloyd's motion for summary judgment
and granted Darwin's motion for summary judgment, thereby
dismissing Lloyd's petition with prejudice, with each
party to bear its own costs. In ruling from the bench, the
trial court specifically found that although there were three
collisions that day, there was one continuous series of
events emanating from the original collision and that the
collisions constituted one occurrence under the Darwin
policy. It is from this judgment that Lloyd's takes its
sole assignment of error, Lloyd's argues that the trial
court committed legal error in holding that a vehicle
involved in three separate collisions had only one occurrence
within the meaning of the Darwin insurance policy.
Lloyd's argues that Mr. Hyde's collisions were
separated by "significant" time and space, and
therefore should be considered separate accidents under the
policy language and in accordance with Louisiana case law. In
opposition to Lloyd's position, Darwin argues that the
language of the insurance policy that provides coverage for
each "occurrence" covers multiple-impact car
collisions in situations like this where the impacts are
continuous and the at-fault driver never regains control.
courts apply a de novo standard of review in
considering lower court rulings on summary judgment motions.
Arceneaux v. Amstar Corp., 15-0588 (La. 9/7/16), 200
So.3d 277, 281. Thus, we use the same criteria that govern
the district court's consideration of whether summary
judgment is appropriate. A motion for summary judgment shall
be granted if the motion, memorandum, and supporting
documents show that there is no genuine issue as to material
fact and that mover is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law. La. C.C.P. art. 966(A)(3). Interpretation of an
insurance policy is usually a legal question that can be
properly resolved by means of a motion for summary judgment.
Washington v. McCauley, 45, 916 (La.App. 2 Cir.
2/16/11), 62 So.3d 173, 177.
insurance policy is a contract between the parties and should
be construed using the general rules of interpretation set
forth in the Civil Code. Louisiana Ins. Guar. Ass'n
v. Interstate Fire & Cas. Co., 93-0911 (La.
1/14/94), 630 So.2d 759, 763. The judicial responsibility in
interpreting insurance contracts is to determine the
parties' common intent. Id. The parties'
intent, as reflected by the words in the policy, determines
the extent of coverage. Id. Such intent is to be
determined in accordance with the general, ordinary, plain
and popular meaning of the words used in the policy, unless
the words have acquired a technical meaning. La. C.C. art.
2047. An insurance policy should not be interpreted in an
unreasonable or strained manner so as to enlarge or to
restrict its provisions beyond what is reasonably
contemplated by its terms or so as to achieve an absurd
conclusion. Louisiana Ins., 630 So.2d at 763.
Darwin policy defines "occurrence" to mean "an
accident, including continuous or repeated exposure in
conditions, which results in bodily injury or property damage
neither expected nor intended from the standpoint of the
insured." In its appellate brief, Darwin maintains that,
because Lloyd's brief fails to discuss the phrase
"including continuous or repeated exposure in
conditions" in its analysis of this case, Lloyd's
asks this Court "to ignore the policy's definition
of 'occurrence' and to ignore Louisiana jurisprudence
by defining 'occurrence' to mean only 'an
accident, ' without more." Darwin suggests that
because this phrase in the policy further qualifies the term
"accident" beyond the ordinary or popular sense of
that word when used on its own, thus narrowing the scope of
coverage, this Court should employ an expanded definition of
accident in this case. Regarding the applicability of the
phrase, Darwin argues that "Hyde's continuous state
of unconsciousness and lack of control of his vehicle - ...