Assault With a Deadly Vehicle in Minnesota

Recently, there have been several stories about individuals assaulting folks with their vehicle. By assaulting others, I mean trying to run people over with their car, or trying to hit others with a vehicle. Whether you use a bat, a fist, or a car, its still called assault when you hit someone else.

Vehicular assaults are common in domestic fights, where partners end up at odds with each other. But we also see it in the same context that we see bar fights – folks who are angry, looking to get into a fight. Unfortunately, the physics involved with a 3 – 5,000 pound vehicle are much greater than with just a fist. As my high school physics teacher told me, force is equal to weight times speed (mass times acceleration is how he put it). What it really means though, is that the larger the weight of the vehicle, the more someone is hurt. For example, I have seen folks badly injured after being hit by a semi, going only 5 mph. A vehicular assault almost always results in injury.

Just this week, a St. Peter Minnesota man was accused of attempting to use his vehicle as a dangerous weapon. If true, he could be charged by the police with assault, even felony assault. In fact, the police involved have requested charges against the driver, Curtis Sykes. The incident that took place on January 17th, 2015 on North Broad Street in Mankato, Minnesota, where the police allege Mr. Sykes assaulted another person with his vehicle.

Unfortunately, the victim in this situation, and all victims, often face a double–whammy. First, they are injured by the person who assaulted them with of the vehicle, and may have to live with those injuries. Secondly, they are likely to be denied insurance coverage by the vehicle that assaulted them.

The car insurance can deny coverage because the driver committed an intentional act, in purposely trying to injure someone. Most auto policies do not cover intentional acts, and specifically exclude them from the policy. This means that someone who is accidentally hit by vehicle is covered by insurance, but someone who is hit on purpose may not get coverage.

In Minnesota, this is one of the finer points of law. It turns out that if the driver hits someone on purpose, there is no coverage if they actually intend to cause the specific injury that is caused.  But there is insurance coverage if the driver intends to hit the other person, but doesn’t intend the specific injury the person actually suffers.

Confused? Let me try to explain it a little better. In this particular case, if the driver had intended to hit the other person, but intended only to cause them some bruising, and instead broke their leg, there would beinsurance coverage. This is because the driver did not intend to break the other person’s leg- the driver intended only to bruise them.

But on the other hand, if the driver had intended to actually break the person’s leg, and the actually broke the leg, there would be no insurance coverage, because they intended the actual injury that happened.

There is a famous Minnesota case where a kid is stuck in a basketball hoop net after dunking a basketball. He is hanging from the net by his finger, which is entangled in the net. His friends decide to pull him down in a forceful manner, and as a result, his finger comes right off. Its a bad picture for sure. But the legal case focused on insurance coverage. In that case, there was insurance coverage because the friends injured him, but did not intend to pull his finger off. If they had intended to pull his finger off, there would be no insurance coverage. You have to intend to do the actual injury that happens for the insurance to be denied.

I guess the overall lesson here is to avoid running folks over with your car; and avoid getting run over. If you use your car as a weapon, you will most likely be charged with felony assault or worse. In addition, you may be sued, and your insurance will not cover you. You will have to pay the damages from the civil suit out of your own pocket. And if you are the one hit by a vehicle, unfortunately you may end up in a battle with the insurance companies, trying to figure out if your injuries were intentional.