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Auto Insurance Coverage for Unexpected Situations: Occupying and Using a Car

Automobile insurance policies are intended to protect drivers and passengers from harm in the event of an accident or injury caused by the use or operation of an automobile. As a recent case of the Virginia Court of Appeals shows, the extent of the coverage provided by your Virginia automobile policy may be broader than you think, especially when it involves activities unrelated to driving.

United Services Automobile Association v. Bruce A. Estep

For example, in the case of United Services Automobile Association v. Bruce A. Estep, Mr. Estep was injured by a luggage cart while loading his car in a hotel parking lot. Estep sought medical benefits from United Services Automobile Association (USAA), but USAA claimed that Estep’s policy did not cover his injuries.

The key issue was whether Estep’s injuries “arose out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle” and whether he was “in or upon, entering, or alighting from’ the vehicle when he was struck.” The court found that there was a causal relationship between the accident and the use of the vehicle as a vehicle, as transporting luggage is a valid and expected use of a vehicle, and one cannot transport the baggage without first packing the vehicle.

The court also found that Estep was “occupying” his car under his USAA policy when he was injured by the rolling luggage cart, as his actions of loading his car with luggage and his plans to promptly leave the hotel were related to his occupancy of the car, and his physical presence halfway inside his car was sufficient enough to trigger coverage under his policy language. Thus, USAA was liable and awarded Estep $30,000 in medical benefits.

Scope of Auto Insurance Coverage: Non-Driving Uses of a Motor Vehicle

This case highlights the fact that your auto policy may extend coverage to events you may not consider.  Many accidents can occur while “using a car” that extend beyond driving. These activities can include, but certainly not limited to; loading items, doing repairs, resting inside the car at a rest stop, or using the engine as a source of power for tools. Such scenarios can present a gray area, leading to disputes between policyholders and insurers over the interpretation of policy language. It is not advisable to face off against a large insurance company without an experienced attorney by your side.

The moral of the story, if you are injured in any way involving an automobile, you will be well-served to contact us at Curcio Law as we are experienced personal injury lawyers and deal with automobile insurance policies daily.

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