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Trial begins for man suing car insurance company over assault by gunmen

A judge's gavel rests on a book of law. (Dreamstime/TNS)

A bench trial began Monday in a civil case filed by a Santa Fe businessman who was shot three times by masked men in 2014 and wants his car insurance company to compensate him for some of his losses.

Peter Komis and his wife, Dorinda Hopper-Komis, filed the suit in 2017 against Farmers Insurance Co. of Arizona. The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical bills and damages under the uninsured motorist portion of two car insurance polices the couple held at the time of the attack, which occurred Sept. 30, 2014, in the driveway of their home on Don Gaspar Avenue in Santa Fe’s tony South Capitol neighborhood.

Police haven’t arrested or charged anyone in the case in the eight years since.

State District Judge Bryan Biedscheid is presiding over the civil case.

Komis’ attorney, Jerry Todd Wertheim, said in an opening statement Monday insurance policies are designed to protect insured parties from “just what happened to them.”

The couple were the “unwitting victims of a criminal attack … carried out with terrifying and breathtaking precision” like those orchestrated by “professional gangs,” Wertheim said, adding it’s nearly certain the attackers used a vehicle to surveil the house prior to the incident, transport them to the residence to commit the attack and take them away afterward.

The attack occurred early in the evening as Komis was returning home, Wertheim said.

Komis activated his electronic gate and drove through it toward his garage, and the attackers walked in right behind him, Wertheim said, displaying a screenshot of video from the family’s home surveillance system that showed two figures wearing hooded sweatshirts walking in the dark.

Once Komis got out of his car, Wertheim said, he was surrounded, struck with the butt of a long gun and knocked to the ground. The assailants took his keys and his cellphone before shooting him several times as he lay on the ground, the attorney said, and then they fled in a vehicle.

Shortly after the attack, Komis told The New Mexican, he had “thought it might all be a prank as the men, three or four of them, came up his driveway wearing hoodies and skeleton-like masks and carrying military-style rifles.”

Then they rushed him and knocked him to the ground.

“They said they were going to kill me,” Komis said in an interview from his hospital bed a week after the incident.

Komis said he had no idea who might have attacked him or why, but said he’d seen a white vehicle traveling the wrong way on Don Gaspar just before turning into his driveway and had shouted, “One way!” at them.

The vehicle didn’t have a license plate, he said, which he thought was suspicious.

Those comments have new significance in the civil case, which Komis’ lawyer said centers on one thing: “Either an uninsured vehicle was involved in the attack or it wasn’t.”

Attorney Scott P. Hatcher, who represents the insurance company, said Monday the mere fact that someone who committed a crime may have used a vehicle at some point isn’t enough to make an insurer liable.

“It has to be something other than simply transporting assailants to and from the crime scene,” he said.

For bodily injury claims to be covered by car insurance, they must have been “caused by accident and arise out of the ownership, maintenance and use of an uninsured vehicle.”

Insurers’ risk liability for intentional crimes is limited to risks associated with motoring, Hatcher said.

“Becoming a victim of a violent crime is a risk of living in our society,” Hatcher said. “Not of driving.”


(c) 2022 The Santa Fe New Mexican

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