Tuesday, October 22, 2013


The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued this gem of an opinion in my former area of practice—insurance coverage work.  The plaintiff was injured when she was struck by and thrown onto the hood of a vehicle insured by the defendant.  The defendant’s policy provided coverage for an “occupant” of a vehicle, but defined that term broadly to include anyone “in, on, entering, or alighting from” a vehicle.  The plaintiff argued she was occupant.  The defendant argued the plaintiff was not an occupant and called the plaintiff’s position “ridiculous.” 

The Sixth Circuit didn’t take kindly to the defendant’s name-calling, noting that there are good reasons not to call another party’s argument ridiculous, including common civility and the likelihood that the hyperbole will make the court dislike the party making it.  And, the biggest reason, according to the Sixth Circuit, was because “the argument that [the defendant] deride[d] as ridiculous [was] instead correct.”

The court noted that while the plaintiff might not have been an “occupant” of the vehicle under the ordinary definition of that term, the policy specifically defined “occupant” to include someone “on” the car.  The parties did not dispute that the plaintiff was thrown “on” the hood of the car during the accident, so the policy provided coverage for the plaintiff’s injuries.

The statement attacking the plaintiff was completely unnecessary to the defendant’s argument and came back to haunt the defendant’s lawyers.  As the Sixth Circuit pointed out, even if the plaintiff’s position had been ridiculous, the defendant would have been better served to “lay out the facts and let the court reach its own conclusion.”  Instead, its words backfired in a big way. 

Lesson Learned: Use words like ridiculous, ludicrous, preposterous, absurd, nonsensical and the like at your own risk.

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