With January below zero weather likely to happen, the insurance implications of giving your friend, co-worker or neighbor a jump to help get the car started is important to know. We had a reader ask if we would discuss the insurance ramifications and exposure for jumping a vehicle improperly. His example was putting the positive and negative clamps on jumper cables to the wrong terminals on a car with a dead battery, in his case, a client (let’s call the client Sally) caused damage to the electrical system of a car owned by a co-worker (let’s call him John) while trying to be helpful. The damage caused by such a mistake is common. In fact, it is not the uncommon for one of the vehicles to burst into flames. Where is the coverage?
If John makes a claim on his personal auto policy, the insurer may be tempted to cite the exclusion for “mechanical or electrical breakdown or failure.” This would be incorrect interpretation of that exclusion, however, since the lead-in wording says the exclusion applies to “damage due and confined to” the electrical breakdown. In this case, the damage was not due to spontaneous electrical failure as contemplated by the exclusion; rather it was caused by human negligence and the resulting damage is covered.
If John makes a direct claim or John’s insurer subrogates against Sally, where is the coverage for Sally? (Note: the non-subrogation provision in the physical damage section only applies to someone who is using the vehicle with permission; Sally wasn’t using John’s vehicle.) Under either the ISO PAP, the liability coverage applies to damages for property damage for which Sally is legally responsible because of an auto accident arising out of the maintenance of any auto. John’s vehicle is not being used by Sally or in her care, so the care-custody-control exclusion doesn’t apply. The only provision that could cause a coverage issue is the limitation of coverage to an “auto accident.” But court cases have ruled that an “auto accident” occurs when (1) one or more vehicles are involved with another vehicle, an object, or a person, (2) the vehicle is being used, including exit or entry, as a motor vehicle, and (3) a causal connection exists between the vehicle’s use and the injury-producing event. In our opinion, this accident meets these three tests and the PAP liability coverage would apply. The homeowners insurance policy wouldn’t typically apply because it has an exclusion which applies to the maintenance of any motor vehicle.