Mr Boot was driving on a highway when his car collided with an oncoming Kenworth truck owned by Elmore Haulage.  Mr Boot died in the collision.

Elmore sued Boot’s insurer, AAMI, pursuant to section 51 of the Insurance Contracts Actclaiming that the damage to its truck was caused by Boot’s negligence.  AAMI defended the proceeding on the basis that Boot had intentionally collided with the truck to commit suicide.  The policy excluded ‘loss or damage caused intentionally’.

The trial judge was not satisfied that Boot had committed suicide and found that, even if he had, his actions did not fall within the exclusion clause. 

The evidence was that Boot posted on Facebook shortly before the collision ‘James Boot loves everyone forever.  And is very sorry for everything :(’. 

The truck driver gave evidence that he first saw Boot’s vehicle when it was about 800 metres in front of him.  When the vehicle was around 100 metres from the truck, Boot veered towards the truck.  On attendance, Victoria Police observed that the most of the damage to the truck was to the driver’s side at the front, around the bulbar and headlight area.

The Court inferred from the evidence that a split second before the impact, Boot had changed his mind and had swerved away from the truck. 

The Court of Appeal upheld the finding that Mr Boot did not intend to commit suicide as evidenced by the last second swerve.  While not required to do so, the Court also discussed how the exclusion clause would have applied had Boot intended to commit suicide at the time of the collision.

The Court considered the evidence of a psychiatrist who stated that a person contemplating suicide would have no intention or contemplation of damage to other vehicles, as they would be completely self-focussed. The effect of the psychiatrist’s evidence was that if Boot had intended to commit suicide, his sole intention would have been to achieve that end, to the exclusion of any other subjective intention. 

The Court drew a distinction between damage caused by an intentional act of the insured and damage caused intentionally by the insured.  The Court found that the exclusion clause was directed to an intended result (loss or damage) and not to the action which produced that result.  It therefore considered that the exclusion clause would not have applied.

I believe this case should be restricted to its own facts.  The state of mind of an insured is generally determined by a process of inference.  Ordinarily, where an insured intentionally drives his vehicle towards another vehicle it would be readily inferred, from those facts, that the insured intended to collide with and so inevitably cause the damage to the second vehicle.  In this case, the evidence of the psychiatrist negated that inference.

AAMI v Elmore Haulage [2013] VSCA 54