Appellate Update – Whether a Plaintiff was Occupying the Vehicle Under a Policy at the Time of the Accident Depends on the Relationship Between the Vehicle and the Plaintiff in Regards to Time and Distance

November 14, 2016 by on News

In State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Bailey, Case No. 2D15-3487 (Fla. 2d DCA Nov. 9, 2016), the Plaintiff was driving a crane truck – a flatbed vehicle with a crane attached for lifting heavy items.  However, at the time of the accident, he was standing approximately ten to twenty feet from the truck observing the operation of the crane by a co-worker.  The truck was running in order for the crane to be operated, but the truck was not moving.  The Plaintiff had observed the crane for approximately thirty minutes when he was struck by an uninsured motor vehicle.

The Plaintiff filed suit for uninsured motorist vehicle coverage against State Farm, his employer’s insurer.  The parties field competing motions for summary judgment.  In order to be covered under the terms and conditions of the State Farm policy, the Plaintiff had to have “occupied” an insured vehicle at the time of the accident.  State Farm argued that the Plaintiff was not occupying the insured vehicle at the time of the accident.  The trial court granted the Plaintiff’s motion and found that his constructive possession of the vehicle at the time of the accident satisfied the occupancy requirement under the policy.  State Farm appealed.

On appeal, the Court held that in order to “occupy” a vehicle that Plaintiff must be at least touching or in close proximity to the vehicle.  The Court explained that “it is the relationship between the person and the vehicle, obviously time and distance, that determines whether a person is ‘in, on, entering or alighting from’ the vehicle.”  The facts demonstrated that the Plaintiff had exited the truck thirty minutes prior to being struck and he was standing ten to twenty feet away from the vehicle.  Thus, the Court concluded that the separation between the Plaintiff and the vehicle, both in distance and in time, precluded a finding that the Plaintiff was occupying the vehicle as a matter of law.  Accordingly, the Court reversed the final judgment.

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Loreyn P. Raab
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