Insurance company tries to dodge trucker’s wrongful death lawsuit

November 3, 2020

Tyson Fisher

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Knight Specialty Insurance is trying to avoid a lawsuit filed by the estate of a trucker killed in a crash, claiming its policy does not cover employees hurt on the job.

In October, Knight Specialty filed a lawsuit in a Florida federal court in response to a separate wrongful death lawsuit pending before a Florida state court. That wrongful death lawsuit seeks damages from Jacksonville Transportation after a pair of its team drivers were killed in a crash. However, the insurance company claims in its federal lawsuit that its policy does not cover injuries to employees of the trucking company.

The wrongful death lawsuit stems from a crash that occurred on April 24, 2019. Ronnie Brown and Martin Allen Cain were driving a truck for Jacksonville Transportation as team drivers. The two were in a 2012 Volvo tractor on U.S. 287 near Wichita Falls, Texas, when the truck crashed with another tractor-trailer. Both men died as a result of the crash.

In April 2020, the estate of Brown filed a lawsuit in a Marion County, Fla., court seeking damages from the crash. The lawsuit names Jacksonville Transportation and Cain and Christopher Hampton, owners of the truck. According to the complaint, Cain was driving the truck at the time of the crash.

However, Knight Specialty is claiming in federal court that its policy with Jacksonville Transportation exempts it from Brown’s lawsuit. In the “Exclusions” section, the policy states that it does not apply to bodily injury of an employee of Jacksonville Transportation arising out of and in the course of their employment.

Essentially, Knight Specialty wants the federal court to declare that it is not required to defend or indemnify Jacksonville Transportation for any claims coming from the deaths of Brown or Cain due to the fact they were employees of the insured and not the insured party themselves.

In a motion to dismiss Knight Specialty’s complaint, Jacksonville Transportation points out that the insurance company’s argument “is predicated on the notion that Brown was an employee at the time of his death.” However, the trucking company claims that the two drivers were independent contractors. In fact, Knight Specialty’s complaint specifically states that the wrongful death lawsuit “is silent as to the fact that (Brown) was an employee of Jacksonville and was in the course and scope of his employment with Jacksonville when he was killed.”

The trucking company is requesting that the federal court put this case on hold while important issues are being addressed in Florida state court.

“Resolution of this highly factual issue will require substantial evidence into the nature of (Jacksonville Transportation’s) relationship with Brown and Cain, which discovery is already ongoing in the (wrongful death lawsuit) and has been for many months,” the trucking company argues. “In other words, the fact finder in the (wrongful death lawsuit) must necessarily resolve the same factual issue that (Knight Specialty) asks this court to resolve as part of its requested declaration.”

The estate of Brown makes a similar argument in its motion to dismiss or stay Knight Specialty’s federal lawsuit.

“Here,  Knight  Specialty’s  two  counts  for  declaratory  relief  on  its  duty  to  defend  hinge on the same issue: whether Brown was within the ‘course and scope’ of employment by (Jacksonville Transportation),” the Brown estate argues. “The underlying complaint does not allege he was within the course and scope. Instead, it alleges he was ‘asleep.’”

As of publication, the federal court has not reached a decision on Knight Specialty’s complaint. LL

Tyson Fisher

Tyson Fisher joined Land Line Magazine in March 2014. An award-winning journalist and tireless researcher, his news reports, features and blogs bring depth to our editorial content, backed with solid detail. Tyson is a lifelong Kansas Citian.