Our Virginia personal injury lawyers have handled cases over many years involving accidents where a car or truck operated by a careless driver also had a trailer connected, or was towing an ATV, boat, or other equipment. Also, our clients have actually been in their own car or truck and had their own trailer when they were in an accident caused by a negligent driver of another car or truck. The question a personal injury lawyer must investigate is exactly how many possible insurance sources apply to provide full compensation for a client who suffers personal injury or a wrongful death, especially if any trailer was involved.
First, there have been cases where our client was pulling a trailer when injured. I once represented a client who was involved in a lawn care business and was towing a trailer holding lawn equipment. Actually, he was almost into his driveway at his own home when he was struck by a negligent driver of a car who was passing another car coming in the opposite direction.
In situations like this what if the negligent driver has very low insurance coverage and causes such serious injuries that the victim-here our client cannot work at his job? Our own client had a liability insurance policy not only on his own car, but a separate policy on the trailer behind his car, so we needed to examine whether our client's own insurance policy provided what is called the uninsured/under insured motorists coverage on his car or trailer for this type of personal injury.
Underinsured motorist coverage applies to add additional insurance when the liability insurance of the careless driver is inadequate, but each state has its own rules on how it applies in addition to liability coverage available from the “at fault” driver.
Our client discussed above was using his own car when he was injured, and there are legal decisions that have held that insurance on a trailer, even if it was not struck during the collision, may also provide additional insurance coverage such as underinsured motorist coverage in this scenario.
In another case I handled in the 90's, my client was operating a tractor trailer unit and was in a collision with a car at a red light controlled intersection. The driver of the car was at fault and my client suffered a serious back injury. The driver of the car had a minimum type liability insurance policy. My client had no insurance on the tractor unit of his tractor-but he was operating a trailer under a lease for a different company, which was insured. The damage was to the cab or tractor of his semi-rig, so the question was could we access under-insured motorist coverage on the trailer he was pulling which was not even damaged in the collision? According to the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia, the under-insured motorist insurance applicable to a towed trailer, involved in a collision, may be applicable in addition to other under-insured motorist coverage in this type of accident.
Because the insurance company insuring the trailer (which was not damaged, but was hitched to the tractor) denied its insurance applied, I filed suit for my client—after all, the client had massive lost income, couldn’t work, and one million dollars of coverage either applied or did not. The federal judge who heard the dispute at trial ruled that the trailer's insurance was not applicable at all. However, I appealed the case to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and won the appeal--meaning that the trailer insurance in the sum of 1 million dollars was fully applicable even though the trailer was not damaged. We later settled the case for the majority of the 1 million dollar policy. The ruling is a fairly good precedent for the proposition that a vehicle and its trailer may both provide applicable uninsured motorist coverage in a personal injury collision involving only the lead car or truck, because the trailer, connected to a car or truck is being "used" when the collision occurs. There need not be damage to the trailer.