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Argo unit not liable in death of motorist


An Argo Group unit is not liable for the death of a motorist who was killed when he collided with a sawmill’s swinging metal gate, based on an auto exclusion in its policy, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday in affirming a lower court ruling.

Marion Wright was driving his personal vehicle to a logging site in Claiborne County, Mississippi, in January 2018, when he drove by a sawmill owned by Port Gibson, Mississippi-based V&B International Inc., according to the ruling by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans in Colony Insurance Co. v. Brandon Keon Wright, on behalf of the wrongful death beneficiaries of Marion Earl Wright; V&B International Inc.

The sawmill’s metal gate swung out across the road and Mr. Wright collided with it. He suffered multiple traumatic injuries and died at the scene, the ruling said.

V&B had purchased a commercial general liability insurance policy from Argo Group unit Colony Insurance Group. The policy included an endorsement titled “absolute auto exclusion” that excluded bodily injury arising directly or indirectly out of the use of any auto.

Mr. Wright’s beneficiaries filed suit in Mississippi state court where a final judgment said that V&B had settled with the beneficiaries for $900,000, to be collected “only against applicable insurance proceeds, if any.”

Colony then filed suit in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Mississippi, seeking a declaration it had no liability under its policy for Mr. Wright’s death.  The district court granted Colony summary judgment, which was affirmed by a unanimous three-judge appeals court panel.

The “only issue before this court is whether a valid exclusion applies,” the panel’s ruling said. “There is no coverage for injuries arising ‘directly or indirectly out of the … use … of any  “auto”’ without limiting the provision’s effect to the insured’s autos,” the ruling said.

“Taking the absolute auto exclusion as written, the policy excludes coverage regardless of any nexus — or lack thereof —between the insured and the auto,” it said, in affirming the lower court’s ruling.

Attorneys in the case had no comment.