Where the driver of one vehicle shot and killed the driver of another vehicle, the injury was not foreseeably identifiable with the normal use of the shooter’s vehicle; furthermore, the shooting was an independent act which broke any chain of causation.
We reverse the Court of Appeals’ decision, which overturned the circuit court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiff-insurer.
To recover under an automobile insurance policy, the insured’s damages must “arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use” of the uninsured motor vehicle. S.C. Code Ann. § 38-77-140. A three-prong test is used to determine whether an insured meets that requirement: (1) the party seeking coverage must establish a causal connection between the injury and the uninsured vehicle, (2) there is no act of independent significance which breaks the chain of causation, and (3) the uninsured vehicle must have been used for transportation at the time. State Farm Fire & Casualty Company v. Aytes, 332 S.C. 30, 503 S.E.2d 744 (1998). Under the first prong, the insured must also show three subparts: “a) the vehicle was an ‘active accessory’ to the assault; and b) something less than proximate cause but more than mere site of the injury; and c) that the ‘injury must be foreseeably identifiable with the normal use of the automobile.'” State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bookert, 337 S.C. 291, 523 S.E.2d 181 (1999). The parties agree the shooter’s vehicle was being used for transportation at the time, so the inquiry focuses on the three subparts under the first element, and whether the act of firing a rifle breaks the chain of causation.
Whether coverage exists in a shooting involving a vehicle has evolved in our jurisprudence. There has been no appellate decision allowing coverage where injuries arose from a gunshot wound since Home Insurance Company v. Towe, 314 S.C. 105, 441 S.E.2d 825 (1994), that is, until the Court of Appeals’ decision in this case. In reversing the circuit court and finding coverage here, the Court of Appeals relied on cases nearly 30 years old which, though not explicitly overruled, were sharply limited by Aytes and the new framework it established.
We agree with other courts that have held it is not reasonable to conclude that the parties to an insurance contract intended gunshot injuries to be covered by an automobile insurance policy.
Moreover, even if defendant could satisfy the first Aytes factor, she fails on the second one because the act of firing a weapon into another vehicle constitutes an act of independent significance. Shooting from a vehicle at other persons is not an act inextricably linked to the use of a vehicle. Consequently, under either of the first two factors, defendant cannot establish that her decedent’s injuries arose out of the use of the shooter’s motor vehicle—a position consistent with courts across the country.
Progressive Direct Insurance Co. v. Groves (Lawyers Weekly No. 010-039-22, 8 pp.) (Kaye Hearn, J.) (Donald Beatty, C.J., concurring in result only without separate opinion) Appealed from Dorchester County Circuit Court (Alison Renee Lee, J.) On writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals. John Robert Murphy and Wesley Brian Sawyer for petitioners; John Phillips Linton and Ryan Harris Sigal for respondent. S.C. S. Ct.