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DRIVE-BY SHOOTING SPURS AUTO-INSURANCE BATTLE
Byline: By Pamela Manson, The Arizona Republic
In arguments today, attorneys for two insurance companies will urge the Arizona Supreme Court to reverse a decision that forces them to pay what they consider farfetched claims.
But an attorney for Angela Ruiz, who was shot in the head while celebrating her high-school graduation, insists that the benefits should be paid.
H. Micheal Wright contends that an uninsured 1976 Dodge, along with a shotgun, were the instruments that left Ruiz with big medical bills and residual brain damage.
He wants the court to uphold a ruling of the Arizona Court of Appeals that said Farmers Insurance and Continental Casualty must pay benefits under uninsured-motorist coverage carried by Ruiz and the owner of a pickup she was riding in.
''Where the driver of the vehicle makes the slightest use of the vehicle in bringing about the injury, then coverage should be upheld,'' Wright says in briefs filed in the case.
Attorneys for the insurers argue that Ruiz's injuries did not stem from the ownership, maintenance or use of the Dodge.
''Taken to its logical conclusion, an individual could seek compensation under their personal uninsured-motorist coverage if they happen to be injured when a bank was robbed and shots were fired from the vehicle as it left the scene,'' James Broening and Neal Thomas, attorneys for Farmers Insurance, say in court filings.
The case centers on the shooting of Ruiz, who rode into Phoenix on June 2, 1989, with two friends to celebrate her graduation earlier that evening from Westwood High School.
As the trio drove north of Seventh Street approaching Thomas Road, a 1976 Dodge maneuvered alongside their low-rider pickup. A passenger in the Dodge fired several shotgun blasts at the pickup.
Four pellets struck Ruiz, then 18, in the head. Paul Garcia, 17, of Chandler, who also had graduated that night and was driving the pickup, was blinded in one eye. His cousin, William Ihrig, 20, of Mesa, owner of the pickup, suffered powder burns on his face.
None of the victims knew the assailants, who had chased the pickup and pulled alongside it. Wright claims the assailants mistook the pickup for a vehicle belonging to rival gang members.
Carlos Garcia, then 20, who was driving the Dodge, and Fernando Rosales, 23, who fired the shots, each were convicted of three counts of aggravated assault. Garcia, no relation to Paul Garcia, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Rosales, who was on parole from a theft conviction at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to life.
Despite permanent disability from the pellets still in her brain, Wright said, Ruiz was able to continue her education. However, she needs more therapy, he said.
Wright contends that the Dodge was used to perpetrate a felony.
''To say that the assault did not arise out of the use of the motor vehicle simply because it could have occurred outside of the motor vehicle is like saying the assault did not arise out of a use of a shotgun because plaintiff could have been assaulted with a bow and arrow,'' he wrote.
In a 1990 lawsuit filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, Wright sought the maximum of coverage offered under the uninsured-motorist clauses in two policies - one from Farmers, which covered Ihrig's vehicle, and the other from Continental, which provided additional coverage for Ruiz through her parents.
A Superior Court judge agreed that the insurance companies did not have to pay benefits, but that was overruled by the Court of Appeals. The firms then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Published correction ran on 12/1/93:
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