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An appellate court in Georgia, affirming a trial court’s decision, has ruled that a driver injured while working on his employer’s truck was not entitled to recover underinsured/uninsured motorist benefits from his own auto insurer because the truck was not an “uninsured motor vehicle.”
Joey Hazelwood worked for Michael Rose dba Rose Logging and regularly drove a large logging truck owned by Mr. Rose and used in Mr. Rose’s business. Mr. Hazelwood drove the truck five days per week, and although he typically returned it at the end of his shift, he was not required to return the truck to Mr. Rose at any particular time, and kept it overnight at least twice.
Late one afternoon, as Mr. Hazelwood was on duty driving the truck from a logging site to a wood yard, two of the truck’s tires blew out. Mr. Hazelwood pulled over on the side of a two-lane mountain road and contacted Mr. Rose, who arrived with a replacement tire to allow them to slowly drive the truck to a safer area to properly fix both tires.
After the tire was mounted on the wheel, Mr. Rose partially inflated it and turned it over to Mr. Hazelwood to continue the inflation. Mr. Hazelwood resumed the inflation, but the tire blew off the wheel, striking Mr. Hazelwood and injuring him.
Mr. Rose was covered by an automobile insurance policy, and Mr. Hazelwood was paid the $100,000 policy limit by Mr. Rose’s insurance carrier.
Because Mr. Hazelwood’s damages exceeded that amount, he sued Mr. Rose and served Auto-Owners Insurance Co., his own insurance provider, so he could pursue an underinsured/uninsured motorist (“UM”) claim under his own auto policy.
Auto-Owners answered and moved for summary judgment, asserting among other things that Mr. Rose’s truck was not an “uninsured motor vehicle.”
The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer, concluding that Mr. Rose’s truck was not an “uninsured motor vehicle” within the meaning of the Auto-Owners insurance policy and applicable Georgia law.
Mr. Hazelwood appealed, arguing that the uninsured motor vehicle exclusion in the policy violated the statutory requirement for Auto-Owners to provide UM coverage under Georgia law.
The Auto-Owners Policy
The Auto-Owners policy obligated Auto-Owners to pay Mr. Hazelwood certain damages that he otherwise was legally entitled to recover from the owner of an uninsured automobile, a term defined to exclude vehicles furnished to or available for regular use of [Mr. Hazelwood].
OCGA § 33-7-11(a) provides: “No automobile liability policy … shall be issued or delivered in this state to the owner of such vehicle … unless it contains an endorsement or provisions undertaking to pay the insured damages … of an insured under the named insured’s policy sustained from the owner or operator of an uninsured motor vehicle, within [certain specified] limits.”
OCGA § 33-7-11(b)(1)(D) defines uninsured motor vehicle as: “a motor vehicle, other than a motor vehicle owned by or furnished for the regular use of the named insured … as to which there is [inadequate coverage].”
The Appellate Court’s Decision
The appellate court affirmed.
In its decision, the appellate court explained that, under the Auto-Owners policy and Georgia law, for a vehicle to be considered an uninsured motor vehicle, it had to be a vehicle other than one “furnished for the regular use” of Mr. Hazelwood.
Here, the appellate court said, the “undisputed facts” showed that the truck that injured Mr. Hazelwood (and that was owned by Mr. Rose) was one that had been furnished to Mr. Hazelwood by his employer “for his regular use.”
This was “[t]he most typical situation” in which a vehicle was furnished to an insured, the appellate court added, explaining that nothing in the statutory language excluded work uses. Therefore, it concluded, the truck that injured Mr. Hazelwood could not be considered an uninsured motor vehicle under OCGA § 33-7-11.
Steven A. Meyerowitz, Esq., is the director of FC&S Legal, the editor-in-chief of the Insurance Coverage Law Report, and the founder and president of Meyerowitz Communications. As FC&S legal director, Meyerowitz, a member of the team that conceptualized FC&S Legal, provides daily analysis and commentary on the most significant insurance coverage law decisions from courts across the country and news regarding legislative and regulatory developments. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Meyerowitz was an attorney at a prominent Wall Street law firm before founding Meyerowitz Communications, a law firm marketing communications consulting company.