September 17, 2014
Using a computer to search for cases can drive you crazy. The computer finds the gems you want, puts them in a truck full of gravel, and dumps the whole load on you. It is now your job to grab a shovel and dig through the pile. The computer would be a great retriever, if only it were smarter.
The pile of gravel can grow pretty large in insurance cases. The terms of the policies are key to the cases you want, but those words are common in case law of all kinds. Courts use them in multiple contexts.
Suppose your client steps out of his or her car and is struck by an uninsured or underinsured motorist. Recovering benefits will likely depend on whether the client is still occupying the car. This area spawns a lot of litigation, largely because of the risk to law enforcement officers and others such as accident victims by the side of the road. But the key policy term, “occupying,” also appears in homeowner’s policies, watercraft policies, no-fault policies, and commercial property policies. More than 5,000 insurance cases mention “occupying,” but have nothing to do with this issue. That’s too much gravel!
You have an additional problem. The gems you are seeking may not be in that pile. Some cases use terms such as “occupancy” or “occupied,” but not “occupying.” Expanding the search will make your retriever bring back the gems, along with more gravel. The term “occupancy” appears in commercial general liability, commercial excess, commercial property, and legal malpractice policies.
Your problem is more unnerving if your client was injured in a drive-by shooting, assaulted in the car, or injured by some non-conventional use of a motor vehicle. The client’s recovery likely will depend on whether the injury arose out of “use” of the uninsured or underinsured vehicle. That term is key to recovery, but appears in more than 10,000 insurance cases.
In Miller’s you can start with the policy form itself and the key policy language defining an “insured” to include any person “occupying” the “covered auto.” Or you may be looking for cases on whether the injury arose out of the “ownership, maintenance, or use” of the uninsured or underinsured vehicle. These clauses link to specific form and section numbers which will take you to annotations linking directly to the case. Since Miller’s divides forms between commercial and personal lines, it is easy to limit your search to one or the other.
This picture shows policy language with links, C1B and C1E3b, to annotations on cases interpreting or applying the policy language.
The Key Number system complements Miller’s if you are searching for cases on “occupancy” of a motor vehicle or “use” of an uninsured or underinsured vehicle. Like Miller’s it organizes cases around “Occupancy of vehicle” and “Ownership, maintenance, operation, or use,” but the Key Number system groups commercial and personal lines policies together. This helps if you are looking for case law on the issue without regard to the distinction between personal and commercial lines.
The Key Number system complements Miller’s in one other way. The “occupancy” issue also arises in disputes over no-fault coverage, and the “use” issue also arises in disputes over no-fault and liability coverage. The Key Number system allows you to easily expand your search into those areas or keep your retriever away from them.
Using these tools can help you work smarter and avoid some of the crazy results computers can dump on you.