Today's issue of IIABNY Insider is hitting your inbox just a couple of days before St. Patrick’s Day. Tradition has it that many people will honor the good saint’s memory by sipping a few adult beverages. At least, that’s what we at IIABNY headquarters have heard. A survey of the staff reveals that, when we were in college, we were always in bed on St. Patrick’s Day by 9 p.m., shortly after reading picture books to the children in the orphans’ home.
Nevertheless, it seems to be a common practice for some among us to imbibe on that day, and some may imbibe past the point where they should switch to Diet Coke. Unfortunately, some of them may ignore New York State laws and basic human morality by attempting to drive their cars afterward. Many of these individuals may have car accidents. Because they were operating their vehicles illegally, questions may arise as to how their insurance coverage will apply. Here are the facts about the intersection of the Insurance Services Office Personal Auto Policy (PP 00 01 01 05) and alcohol:
1. Liability coverage applies to a drunk driver. The Liability section of the policy states that the insurer will pay damages for bodily injury (including damages for care and loss of services) or property damage for which any insured becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident. As is the case with every insurance policy, exclusions narrow this broad promise of coverage. However, the policy does not contain an exclusion that would eliminate coverage solely because the driver was intoxicated. Unless a specific policy exclusion applies, the driver has liability coverage. He might not be offered a renewal when his policy expires, but he has coverage for the loss.
2. Physical Damage coverage may apply to a drunk driver. Ditto for Coverage For Damage To Your Auto. If the insured bought Comprehensive and/or Collision coverage on the vehicle involved in the accident, coverage will apply. There is no exclusion of coverage for situations where the driver was intoxicated.
3. No-Fault coverage applies, but it might be a loan. Until recently, the New York Personal Injury Protection Coverage endorsement (PP 05 87 01 14) excluded coverage for a person injured as a result of operating a vehicle while intoxicated or while impaired by the use of drugs. Unfortunately, this resulted in a lot of emergency health care providers never getting paid for services rendered to these drivers. The New York State Legislature amended the no-fault law almost four years ago so that insurers must reimburse providers for necessary emergency health services, including ambulance services and related medical screenings. Should a court later convict the individual of driving while intoxicated or impaired, the insurer has the right to subrogate against him.
4. The host of a private party is not liable for the acts of an intoxicated adult guest. New York General Obligations Law Section 11-101 holds vendors (bars, restaurants, etc.) legally liable for injuries or damages caused by an intoxicated person to whom the vendor sold or gave alcohol. However, the law places no such burden on people who host a party. If you host a St. Patrick’s Day party in your home or at an establishment, and one of your adult guests ties one on and hurts someone, you cannot be held liable. However…
5. The host IS liable for the acts of intoxicated minors. General Obligations Law Sect. 11-100 permits anyone who suffers injury or damage at the hands of an intoxicated person under age 21 to sue someone who knowingly contributed to the intoxication by giving the underage person alcohol. Parents should not host beer parties for their children’s underage friends. And if they do…
6. The Homeowners policy will not cover them. The ISO Homeowners 3 Special Form policy (HO 00 01 05 11) excludes liability coverage for almost all incidents involving a motor vehicle.
Despite the selfishness and stupidity of driving while intoxicated, many insurance coverages do apply to the act. Regardless, it’s better to hand over the keys to someone who hasn’t been drinking. Insurance pays for medical bills and other expenses; it doesn’t kill pain or restore lives needlessly lost. So, drink up and call a cab so the only person hurting on Tuesday is you.
And have a happy St. Patrick’s Day.