Does Motor Vehicle Insurance Cover Activities Outside of Vehicle?

In a case that came down from the US District Court regarding when a motor vehicle insurance policy kicks into effect gives us an expansion of the term “use” when applied to motor vehicle insurance coverage.

In this case, the victim was not in a vehicle; he had just gotten out of the vehicle. On February 23, 2011, Michael Jodrie got out of the vehicle to be a spotter, directing a truck driver in backing up at a wastewater facility near a clarifier tank. Unfortunately, the clarifier tank was left open and Mr. Jodrie fell into the tank and was seriously injured. The wastewater company notified its general liability insurance company, First Mercury, but they declined to defend their insured, positing that the injuries resulted from the “use” of a motor vehicle and therefore not their responsibility.

Which Insurance Policy Insures a Victim When Accident is Outside the Vehicle?

The case, A&W Maintenance Inc. v. First Mercury Insurance Company, was decided by US District Court Judge William G. Young. The case did not cover the injuries or damages to the victim, but a determination as to which insurance company would have to cover the injuries sustained by the victim.

The District Court Judge held that the backing up of a truck was not part of loading and unloading and that Mr. Jodrie, the spotter, was not injured from an accident that arose out of “the use of an auto.” The “mere involvement” of the vehicle is incidental in this case because the “ownership, use or maintenance of the ‘auto’ since the injurious condition was neither ‘peculiar’ nor ‘intrinsic’ to the auto.” There needs to be a “casual connection” between the use and the injury and here, it was too attenuated.

The fact that may have made the difference is that the open clarifier tank was the negligence of the landowner, not the truck driver. The lack of adequate safeguards around the tank was an “independent, intervening and unique” factor in causing Mr. Jodrie’s injuries.

Did the Insurance Company Violate MGL Chapter 93A?

The Court held that First Mercury did not violate Chapter 93A. This is understandable because there was no clear unfair and deceptive trade practice or “bad faith” undertaken by the insurance company. For 93A to apply, there would have to be a finding that there the insurance company knew, or should have known, that their decisions, or internal decision making, was unfair and calculated to deny benefits to the victim or policy holder.

Retain An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney

Insurance and insurance coverage issues are complicated. Insurance companies often spend considerable time deciding if coverage applies, all while the innocent victim of a car accident is awaiting a fair determination of value. This can be an unfair practice under Chapter 93A. It also can simply require an aggressive approach to forcing the determination issue.

Often, when coverage is denied, you can use your own underinsurance coverage to get fair compensation. An experienced attorney knows how, and when, to pursue this.

Call Attorney Neil Burns at 617-227-7423 for a free consultation.

There is no fee until we win.

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