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Insurer needn’t indemnify truck stop in exploding tire lawsuit

Truck tire

The Virginia Supreme Court has overturned a lower court ruling and unanimously held that James River Insurance Co. is not obligated to indemnify a truck stop in litigation involving injuries caused by an exploding tire.

Doswell, Virginia-based Doswell Truck Stop LLC, which was insured by Richmond, Virginia-based James River’s commercial general liability policy, operates a truck stop in Doswell, Virginia, that includes a repair garage, according to Thursday’s ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court in James River Insurance Co. v. Dowell Truck Stop LLC et al.

When James T. Smith sought to have a tire on his tractor-trailer repaired or replaced, a truck stop employee invited him into the garage area, according to the ruling.

Although the tire was secured within an OSHA-compliant steel cage designed for inflating damaged truck tires, the employee over-inflated the tire, causing it to explode and injure Mr. Smith, according to the ruling. Mr. Smith filed a personal injury lawsuit against the truck stop in June 2016.

The truck stop filed an insurance claim with James River, which denied coverage on the basis its claim was precluded by its policy’s auto exclusion, which excluded coverage for injuries arising out of an auto’s maintenance.

 The truck stop filed suit against the insurer, and a lower court held that the policy was ambiguous with respect to the meaning of “maintenance” of an auto.

Of two competing interpretations of maintenance, “only one can reasonably be applied to every instance of the term, in the Policy,” said the ruling. “Specifically, ‘regular repair operations’ is the only interpretation of ‘maintenance’ that can be reasonably applied to every instance of the term in the Policy,” said the ruling.

“Accordingly, the term is not ambiguous,” the ruling said, in reversing the lower court and ruling the policy’s auto exclusion precludes coverage for Mr. Smith’s injuries under the policy.

The truck stop’s attorney had no comment, while the insurer’s attorney could not be reached.



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