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November 2013

Auto Exclusion in Homeowner Policy Enforced

The California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, recently applied an automobile exclusion in a homeowner’s policy to preclude coverage following the death of a minor struck by an automobile, even though there were other alleged independent causes of the injury.  In so holding, the court reasoned that the injury would not have occurred in the absence of the automobile.

According to the October 1, 2013 opinion in Farmers Ins. Exch. v. Superior Court, Bautista was insured under a homeowner’s policy of insurance issued by Farmers Insurance Exchange (“FIE”).  Bautista was sued in connection with the death of his granddaughter, who was struck by Bautista’s truck.  In the complaint, a cause of action for negligence in the operation of the vehicle was asserted against Bautista.  A second cause of action for negligent supervision was asserted against Bautista’s wife for failing to properly supervise Bautista’s granddaughter.  FIE filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a determination regarding whether the automobile exclusion in Bautista’s homeowner’s policy applied to preclude coverage for the loss. 

Bautista argued that the causes of action pled in the complaint were independent proximate causes of the injury; and therefore, because the homeowner’s policy provided coverage for negligent supervision, the automobile exclusion did not apply.  The court recognized two lines of cases addressing whether an automobile exclusion applies when there are independent proximate causes of the injury.  Where the injury would have occurred regardless of the automobile, courts do not enforce the automobile exclusion.  (See, State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Partridge (1973) 10 Cal.3d 94 and State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Kohl (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 1031.)  However, where the negligence exposed the injured party to injury involving an automobile, the exclusion applies.  (See, National American Ins. Co. v. Coburn (1989) 209 Cal.App.3d 914 and Safeco Ins. Co. v. Gilstrap (1983) 141 Cal.App.3d 524.)

The Court held the automobile exclusion precluded coverage in this case because the automobile played an active role in causing the injury.  The Court reasoned that the alleged negligent supervision of the decedent by Bautista’s wife was only negligent because it exposed the decedent to the danger of negligent automobile use.  Had her failure to supervise the decedent occurred at any other time, it would not have exposed the decedent to the injury actually suffered. 

Click here for opinion.

The opinion in Farmers Ins. Exchange v. Superior Court (2013) 2013 Cal.App. LEXIS 864, 13 C.D.O.S. 11879, is not final. It may be withdrawn from publication, modified on rehearing, or review may be granted by the California Supreme Court. These events would render the opinion unavailable for use as legal authority in California state courts.


Christopher R. Wagner