The Third Department determined plaintiff-insurer was obligated to defend and the insured in this personal injury case stemming from the unloading of a tractor from a flatbed truck owned by the insured. The tractor rolled over the insured’s son as it was being unloaded. The son and his wife sued the insured and the insured’s farm. Plaintiff carrier brought this action for a declaratory judgment that it was not obligated to defend or indemnify, apparently claiming the (insured’s) truck was not being operated when the accident occurred:
If anything within the “four corners of the complaint suggest[s] . . . a reasonable possibility of coverage,” the insurer must defend, even though it may not ultimately be bound to pay because the insured may not be liable … . …
Pursuant to the Vehicle and Traffic Law, “[e]very owner of a vehicle used or operated in this state shall be liable and responsible for . . . injuries to person or property resulting from negligence in the use or operation of such vehicle, in the business of such owner or otherwise, by any person using or operating the same with the permission, express or implied, of such owner” (Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 ) … . * * * “The policy of insurance issued must be as broad as the insured owner’s liability for use of the vehicle by the owner or anyone using the vehicle with his [or her] permission” … .
Loading and unloading of a covered vehicle constitute “use or operation” pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law § 388 (1) … , and a vehicle does not have to be in motion to be in “use or operation” … . * * *
George Henderson [the insured] loaded and secured the tractor on the flatbed truck, drove the flatbed truck to the farm, rolled the bed back and tilted it, and operated the winch that was supposed to be holding the tractor in place. He also regularly requested or allowed Charles Henderson [his son} and the other individual to unload machinery from the flatbed truck. Charles Henderson asserted that, due to George Henderson not paying attention, the winch cable went slack, causing it to release from the tractor and allow the tractor to roll. George Henderson is potentially both directly and vicariously liable for negligence in the personal injury action … , and there is prima facie “reasonable possibility of coverage” … . Thus, plaintiff is obliged to defend George Henderson and the farm in the underlying action. Farm Family Cas. Ins. Co. v Henderson, 2020 NY Slip Op 00021, Third Dept 1-2-20