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We’ve all seen or been part of multi-vehicle accidents, usually on a limited access highway in rush hour. But when more than one vehicle strikes the same obstacle, is that considered one accident or three? According to a recent court ruling, it depends on the state’s definition of “a series of unfortunate events” (with apologies to Lemony Snicket).

A dump box attached to a dump truck owned by Stoney Ridge Top Soil struck and damaged an overpass owned by the New York State thruway authority. After hitting the overpass, the dump box separated from the truck and landed in the highway. Between 30 seconds and five minutes later, the vehicle occupied by the Itzkowitz family struck the box. At some point between a few seconds and 20 minutes later, another vehicle occupied by the Compton family struck the same dump box. Stoney Ridge’s insurer, National Liability & Fire Insurance Company, argued that this series of events constituted one accident under the terms of the policy. The claimants, which included the Itzkowitz family, the Compton family and the N.Y. State Thruway Authority Corporation (NYSTAC), countered that three accidents occurred.

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