The Rhode Island Supreme Court recently relied on an SDV amicus brief to decide a case favorable to policyholders. In Amberleigh Hudson v. GEICO Insurance Agency, 2017 WL 2622777 (R.I. June 16, 2017), the Court held that an automobile passenger was still “occupying” the vehicle for purposes of uninsured motorist coverage after exiting the vehicle to help an accident victim.
Ms. Hudson was seated in her boyfriend’s parked car when she heard a collision. Realizing that there had been a traffic accident, she got out to assist and was struck by another car. Because the at-fault driver’s insurance was insufficient to pay for Ms. Hudson’s injuries, she sought underinsured-motorist coverage from her boyfriend’s GEICO policy. But GEICO argued that Ms. Hudson was not “occupying” her boyfriend’s vehicle at the time she was injured and denied the claim.
SDV argued in its amicus brief that Ms. Hudson’s position as a passenger in the covered auto put her in a unique position to render aid. Because she was close enough to hear the collision, the aid she rendered was automatic. Citing Justice Cardozo’s famous dictum, SDV argued, “Danger invites rescue. The cry of distress is the summons to relief.” Wagner v. Internat’l Ry., 232 N.Y. 176, 180, 133 N.E. 437 437 (1921). In other words, Ms. Hudson’s proximity to another’s danger so animated her natural impulse to help that the danger itself could scarcely be distinguished from the consequent rendering of aid. “[P]eril and rescue must be in substance one transaction.” Id. at 181.
In deciding in favor of Ms. Hudson, the Court took up SDV’s argument and held that she was “‘unable to ignore’ the call of distress” and that her response was in keeping with the common-law rescue doctrine as articulated by Justice Cardozo in Wagner and with Rhode Island’s codification of that doctrine, the Duty-to-Assist Statute, R.I. Gen. Laws 11-56-1. Writing for the majority, Justice Goldberg held that “[t]he law has long recognized that seeing a person injured or in peril compels those called to follow the example of the Good Samaritan to provide assistance.” Hudson, 2017 WL 2622777, at *7. These “Good Samaritans” should be protected. Id.
Jun 23, 2017
Brian J. Clifford