Wright v. Turner
Case #: S060960
Walters, J. for the Court; En Banc
Full Text Opinion: http://www.publications.ojd.state.or.us/docs/S060960.pdf
Insurance Law: The term "accident", as used in statutorily prescribed insurance contracts, is interpreted by legislative intent. Furthermore, whether more than one "accident" has occurred is ordinarily a question of fact reserved for the factfinder.
Wright appealed the Court of Appeals decision that only one accident occurred as a matter of law, limiting Wright's coverage to $500,000. Wright was involved in an automobile accident involving two other cars and successfully brought suit seeking Underinsured Motorist benefits from her insurer, Enumclaw Insurance Company (Enumclaw). The relevant insurance policy limited such benefits to $500,000 per accident. At trial, Enumclaw objected that only one accident had occurred, and requested that the jury determine the number of accidents. The trial court disagreed, and denied Enumclaw's request. Enumclaw appealed. The Court of Appeals opined that under Oregon law, the plaintiff bears the burden of presenting evidence of two accidents, as opposed to one, and that Wright failed to present evidence of two accidents. Therefore, only one accident occurred as a matter of law. Additionally, the Court of Appeals decided that whether one "accident" had occurred is a matter of contractual interpretation. Wright appealed. First, the Court held that because the contractual provision at issue is statutorily required, the legislatures' intention of enacting that statute controls the meaning of the term "accident" rather than its contractual interpretation. Next, the Court interpreted "accident" in accordance with its plain meaning, and determined that one "accident" means one event, happening, or occurrence. Finally, the Court held that whether more than one "accident" occurred is ordinarily a question of fact reserved for the factfinder. Here, Wright presented evidence that was at least sufficient to give rise to a jury question on whether she was injured in one "accident" or two. Therefore, the trial court erred in not presenting that question to the jury. Reversed and remanded to the circuit court for further proceedings.