Something that gives me great consternation is the perpetuation of insurance myths. One such myth is that hitting a deer in a motor vehicle is ONLY covered if you have comprehensive coverage on your auto policy. I’ve seen or heard this generalization from industry organizations, insurers, regulators, media, and others. To illustrate, simply Google “is hitting a deer collision or comprehensive” or “car hits deer” to see what I mean. Here is the most recent regulatory “consumer alert” that prompted this post by perpetuating this myth:

Louisiana Department of Insurance Consumer Alert: Steer Clear of Deer this Fall

They are all wrong. The correct answer is “It depends.” Some policies cover hitting a deer as a collision IF you have only collision (not comprehensive) coverage while others specifically exclude it. As always, you MUST read the policy and not make absolute generalizations about coverage. For example, one insurer’s personal auto policy says:

“Collision” means the impact with an object and includes upset of a vehicle. Loss caused by the following is covered under Comprehensive Coverage and is not considered a “collision”: … contact with a bird or animal.

That pretty clearly states that contact with a deer is NOT considered a collision under their policy. Contrast that with what Insurance Services Office (ISO) “standard” auto policies say. ISO has two primary auto policies, the CA 00 01 – Business Auto Policy (BAP) and the PP 00 01 – Personal Auto Policy (PAP). The ISO BAP is clear:

If you carry Comprehensive Coverage for the damaged covered “auto”, we will pay for the following under Comprehensive Coverage: … “Loss” caused by hitting a bird or animal….

ISO BAP physical damage coverage is usually written with collision coverage then a choice of either Comprehensive coverage or Specified Causes of Loss coverage. The language above is clear…hitting a deer is covered “IF” you have comprehensive coverage, not “only IF” you have comprehensive coverage. What if you have collision and Specified Causes of Loss. Well, you won’t find contact with deer listed under the Specified Causes of Loss, but isn’t hitting a deer a collision otherwise? The term “collision” is not defined in the policy, so courts look to common usage, often in the form of dictionary definitions. Again, Google “collision definition” or “collision defined” and you’ll discover just how broad this term is and it certainly includes contact between any forms of matter.

So, if you have collision coverage, contact with a deer would be a collision. However, in the ISO BAP, if you also have comprehensive coverage, then the contact is considered a comprehensive claim. That makes sense in that most deer collisions, unlike collisions with stationary objects, don’t involve operator negligence. As a result, comprehensive deductibles are often less than collision deductibles and often do not involve any kind of punitive “points” premium charges.

The ISO PAP language is similar to their BAP language but omits the qualifying word “if.” Why? I can only surmise. For one thing, collision coverage is rarely, if ever, written without comprehensive coverage, unlike the ISO BAP where Specified Causes of Loss may be written in lieu of comprehensive coverage. As a result, the need for qualifying language in the PAP may be considered less critical. Or perhaps ISO’s PAP and BAP people haven’t discussed this even though the exposure to loss is identical.

So, the morals to this story are twofold: (1) don’t believe everything you read no matter the source, and (2) READ THE POLICY and stop relying on generalizations about coverage. How many covered deer claims have been denied because of the perpetuation of this myth? If policy language is ambiguous clarify it and I believe that clarification should be that contact with a deer IS a collision…why should a policy cover an inattentive driver running off the road and hitting a telephone pole yet not cover damage caused by a deer darting from the side of the road at midnight? Makes no sense.

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Bill Wilson

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One of the premier insurance educators in America on form, coverage, and technical issues; Founder and director of the Big “I” Virtual University; Retired Assoc. VP of Education and Research from Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. Reprint Request Information