"Road rage" has entered the lexicon in recent years, and it describes the angry, emotional and often threatening response that one driver has to another in certain situations. The usual scenario consists of some combination of gestures, name-calling and horn-honking, and does not rise to the more dangerous level of physical altercation. But as we see fairly regularly on the news, some drivers take "road rage" to the next level and provoke a physical confrontation that may lead to serious injuries or death.
In other situations, a car accident itself can lead to a heated exchange between the drivers involved, and a physical altercation is sometimes the end result.
In this article, we'll discuss the law surrounding these kinds of confrontations, and the applicability (or inapplicability) of insurance coverage when someone is injured.
Driver-on-Driver Assault and the Law
When one driver assaults another, the police are typically involved, and the matter comes within the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. Unprovoked physical assault is a crime, and those who commit this type of crime can expect to receive some form of criminal punishment that may include jail, fines, probation and restitution. Learn more about assault and battery.
While the victim of "road rage" or similar conduct that may follow an auto accident will certainly feel some sense of satisfaction that the perpetrator is receiving criminal sanctions for his conduct, the victim may also want to pursue a civil claim against the perpetrator for the injuries caused by the assault.
People who commit unprovoked assaults are clearly liable for the harm they cause, and they may be sued for damages in the civil courts. As in other personal injury cases, the victim (now the plaintiff) and his or her lawyer will want to know if the perpetrator has any insurance that will cover the claim; if he does not, the plaintiff will have to attempt to recover any damages awarded from the perpetrator's personal assets.
Insurance Almost Never Covers an Assault
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, even where the perpetrator has ample auto insurance coverage, that policy will not cover injuries suffered by another driver as a result of intentionally violent actions taken by the insured, even after a driving-related incident. Of course, the final word on this issue will ultimately depend on the precise language of the auto insurance policy involved, but in virtually all cases the answer will be "no" as to car insurance coverage for assault-related injuries at the scene of an accident.
There are two main reasons why the typical auto insurance policy will not afford coverage in the case of an assault that occurs as the result of a "road rage" incident or at a car accident scene.
The first reason is that these policies typically limit coverage to injuries that result from the policy holder's operation of the insured automobile. Once the policy holder exits the vehicle and engages in a physical altercation, he is no longer acting in the capacity of a vehicle operator to whom the auto insurance policy applies.
The second reason is that auto insurance policies almost always contain a coverage exclusion for "intentional acts" such as assault. So, even if a policy's coverage could be read to extend to acts of the insured that occur outside of the insured vehicle, no coverage will be afforded if the insured's wrongful acts are committed intentionally (and an assault is always considered an intentional act).
Other potential sources of insurance for "road rage" incidents or similar assaults at car accident scenes include the perpetrator's homeowner's insurance and the victim's own auto insurance. However, coverage under these types of policies will most likely be denied as well, for the same reasons that preclude coverage under the perpetrator's auto insurance policy.
Because insurance coverage is a matter of contract law and interpretation of specific policy terms, it is prudent to exhaust all possible avenues of insurance that might be available to pay a claim for damages caused by a driving related assault. But the harsh reality is that car insurance -- and insurance of any kind, for that matter -- will almost never cover this kind of claim.