eNotes: Liability – May 2022 – Virginia
May 02, 2022
SIGNIFICANT CASE SUMMARIES
VA CASE SUMMARIES
Progressive Gulf Ins. Co. v. Reynolds
United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia
Decided: April 8, 2022
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia holds that a passenger lacking legal authority and permission is excluded from driver’s insurance policy coverage.
Jonathan Wilson grabbed and yanked the steering wheel while sitting in the front passenger seat of Matthew Reynolds’s car while Reynolds was driving. The car left the road, struck a pole, jumped a curb, and hit another car before crashing into a Coca-Cola bottling plant. Wilson has never possessed a driver’s license; he was charged with reckless driving and was later convicted for a lesser offense of improper driving. Reynolds received a warning.
Reynolds maintained a driver’s insurance policy on his car through Progressive, which covered “‘property damage’ for which any ‘insured’ becomes legally responsible because of an auto accident.” The policy defined “insured” as “[a]ny person using or responsible for the use of ‘your covered auto.’” By statute, this coverage extended to anyone using the car “with the express or implied consent of” the owner. Progressive filed suit seeking declaratory judgment excluding Wilson from coverage under Reynolds’s driver’s insurance policy.
On summary judgment, the dispositive question was whether Wilson reasonably believed that he had Reynolds’s permission to grab the wheel. In these circumstances, there was no genuine issue of material fact with respect to whether Wilson reasonably believed he had Reynolds’s express or implied permission to yank the steering wheel from the passenger seat. Wilson did not hold a valid driver’s license, and there was no exigent circumstance such as a medical emergency which would have justified grabbing the wheel of the car. Therefore, the Court concluded that Wilson lacked both legal authority and permission to drive, such that he would not be covered by Reynolds’s insurance policy.
Questions about this case can be directed to Mackenzie Payne at (571) 470-1906 or email@example.com.
Erie Ins. Exch. v. Jones
Virginia Supreme Court
Decided: April 14, 2022
Virginia Supreme Court considers whether an all-terrain vehicle is covered under homeowner’s insurance policy.
Diamond Jones was riding as a passenger on an All-Terrain Vehicle operated by the daughter of Jennifer and Richard Rekowski. During the ride, and while off the Rekowski’s property, Jones was struck and injured by a tree branch. The Rekowskis were insured by a homeowner’s insurance policy issued by Erie. Bodily injury due to ownership or maintenance of a “land motor vehicle” was excluded under the terms of the policy. However, a number of vehicles were not subject to this exclusion, including: “recreational land motor vehicle[s] not designed for use on public roads while at an insured location,” and “lawn or farm type vehicle[s].”
Jones filed an action for declaratory relief against Erie, the Rekowskis, and their daughter, seeking a judgment that Erie was obligated to pay the insurance claim. As the accident happened off the Rekowski’s property, the exception for “recreational land motor vehicle[s]” did not apply. Therefore, Plaintiff argued that the ATV was a “lawn or farm type vehicle.” An expert witness for the Plaintiff claimed that the ATV in question was a “utility model designed for whatever kind of use the owner has in mind,” and that attachments could be added to allow use on a farm. The Rekowskis testified that the ATV was too small for such work. Ultimately, the Circuit Court concluded that the policy did cover the accident, reasoning that “lawn or farm type vehicle” was ambiguous language and should therefore be construed against the drafter. Erie appealed.
The Virginia Supreme Court reversed. The Supreme Court identified “farm type” vehicles as those of “a class or kind of vehicles designed for and used primarily for farming,” i.e. a tractor or combine. An ATV, however, is a multi-use vehicle. It could be used on a farm, but it could also be used for recreation. If “farm type vehicle” could be read to encompass all vehicles that could be used on a farm, then the exception would be “so broad it would render the limits on coverage meaningless.” The Supreme Court held “as a matter of law that the language ‘lawn or farm type vehicle or snowblower’ does not encompass a multi-use vehicle like an ATV,” and found in favor of Erie.
Questions about this case can be directed to Kelly Crowe at (571) 464-0434 or firstname.lastname@example.org.