SJC Rules No Duty to Indemnify Ambulance Company Delayed by Auto Accident

The Supreme Judicial Court determined that a business automobile insurer had no duty to indemnify an ambulance company where the plaintiff in the underlying tort case alleged that the decedent died as a result of an ambulance being delayed because of a motor vehicle accident while en route to the home of the decedent. This decision affirmed in part a Middlesex Superior Court decision in a declaratory judgment action. While the Court stated that the insurer had a duty to defend the insured in the underlying case, the Court specifically ruled that from the date of its opinion forward, “there is no duty to defend, where the plaintiff (or decedent) alleges that the plaintiff’s (or the decedent’s) injuries arose out of or resulted from delay as a result of a motor vehicle accident and the plaintiff (or his decadent) was no present at the scene of the accident.” Ruggerio Ambulance Service, Inc. v. National Grange Mutual Insurance Company, 430 Mass. 794, 799n.3, 724 N.E.2d 295 (2000).

The business automobile policy at issue provided:

We will pay all sums the insured legally must pay as damages because of bodily injury or property damage to which this insurance applied, caused by an accident and resulting from the ownership, maintenance or use of a covered auto.

The Massachusetts Mandatory Endorsement, further defined the term “accident’ as follows:

“Accident” means an unexpected, unintended event that causes bodily injury arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use, including the loading or unloading of an auto.

In order for an injury to “arise out of” an accident, the Court determined that there must be a sufficiently close relationship between the alleged injury and the motor vehicle accident. National Grange, 430 Mass. at 798. The appellant, Ruggerio Ambulance, argued that Massachusetts case law supported a finding of coverage in “a variety of circumstances involving injuries arising out of the use of an automobile other than in a collision.” Id. at 796-797. The Court disagreed, however, holding that “[w]e do not think that the ambulance accident can be said to be the cause of the decedent’s death. The decedent was neither involved in nor present at the accident. “To adopt [Ruggerio’s] argument would be tantamount to converting the [National Grange policy] into a general liability policy, contrary to the language of the insurance policy.’” Id. at 798. The Court found, significantly, that “the relationship between the decedent’s death and the accident was too attenuated for coverage under a motor vehicle policy to be extended under the National Grange policy.” Id.