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When a child dies in a vehicle, grieving families rarely look to their own insurance – but they should. Always file an insurance claim when you suffer a loss. If the insurance company denies your claim, call a lawyer.

James Barnes, born May 6 of this year, died when the van he occupied rolled into the Chena River, just outside Fairbanks, Alaska. By all accounts, his father fought like hell to get James, and his two siblings out of the van. Here are the insurance issues arising from tragedy such as this…

The apparent cause of this fatality is other kids playing in the van, parked on a river bank near Fairbanks, Alaska. According to the newspaper’s account, one of James’ siblings might have engaged the transmission, allowing its roll into the water. James’ father needs to know that his insurance carrier should be providing coverage for this tragedy.

You see, James’ father bought insurance on this van. That insurance says that it will cover any loss arising from the: (1) Use; (2) Operation; and/or (3) Maintenance of this van. Clearly, James’ death arose out of the use/operation and/or maintenance of this van. The family’s insurer should thus belly-up and pay this claim.

Want to bet that the insurer doesn’t pay it – or tries to weasel out it? Here is what the family’s insurer will likely tell James’ father: (1) There was no automobile accident – no collision – so there is no coverage … sorry; (2) It was your fault. Are you trying to profit from your son’s death? What kind of person are you?; or (3) Do you really want to sue your other child?

What the family won’t be told is that all of these arguments are bunk. In Alaska, James’ family has a DIRECT claim against their insurance company to collect the insurance owed them. In Myers v. Robertson, 891 P.2d 199 (Alaska 1995), our Supreme Court ruled that in situations like this, the family may sue their insurance company directly. And though any insurance payment will likely be small solace to James’ family, the simple fact is that James’ family paid for their insurance – and are entitled to it – especially when tragedy like this strikes.

My advice to James’ family: Call your insurance company – today. If they even hesitate, phone a lawyer, ASAP. And, be sure to claim both under your liability insurance, and your Underinsured motorist insurance. You’re entitled to both. I doubt your insurance company will explain that, either.

For more information on this subject matter, please refer to the section on Car and Motorcycle accidents.

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