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An appellate court in Pennsylvania has ruled that an exclusion in an auto insurance policy precluded coverage of a motorcyclist’s claim for injuries he suffered when he collided with another driver’s automobile.

The Case

Donald C. Petra was operating his motorcycle when he collided with an automobile owned and operated by Jason R. Nalewak. Mr. Petra was ejected from the seat of his motorcycle and hit the ground. No other vehicles were involved in the accident.

Mr. Petra asserted that he sustained bodily injuries while he was “in physical contact with” his motorcycle, and also while he was “separate from physical contact with” his motorcycle.

Mr. Petra had insured his motorcycle with Harley-Davidson Insurance Services, Inc., under a policy underwritten by Progressive Advanced Insurance Company, but he had rejected uninsured and underinsured motorist (“UIM”) coverage under that policy.

At the time of the accident, Mr. Petra also owned a minivan that was insured with Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Insurance Company (“Penn National”).

He subsequently sued Penn National to recover UIM benefits under the Penn National policy, and the parties moved for summary judgment.

The trial court concluded that an exclusion in the Penn National policy barred Mr. Petra from UIM benefits, and Mr. Petra appealed. He argued that the exclusion in the Penn National policy did not preclude coverage because he had not been “occupying” a non-insured motor vehicle – that is, his motorcycle – when he was injured. Rather, Mr. Petra asserted, “[s]ome of his injuries were sustained while he was in physical contact with the motorcycle[,] while other injuries occurred after he was separated from the motorcycle.”

The Penn National Policy

The Penn National insurance policy provided:

A. We do not provide Underinsured Motorists Coverage for “bodily injury” sustained:

1. By you while “occupying”, or when struck by, any motor vehicle you own which is not insured for this coverage under this policy.

The policy defined “occupying” to mean:

in, upon, getting in, on, out or off.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

The appellate court affirmed.

In its decision, the appellate court rejected Mr. Petra’s contention that he had not been “occupying” his motorcycle when he was injured.

The appellate court reasoned that “[s]egmenting the accident under [Mr. Petra’s] analysis would create an absurd result.” Mr. Petra’s attempt to distinguish injuries suffered upon impact with Mr. Nalewak’s vehicle from those incurred after he was thrown from his motorcycle was “not persuasive,” the appellate court said.

It pointed out that Mr. Petra had stipulated that a single accident had occurred and that there had been no intervening or superseding accident. Accordingly, the appellate court ruled that, construing the “unambiguous terms” of the exclusion contained in the Penn National, Mr. Petra had suffered bodily injury while occupying his motorcycle, a vehicle not covered by the policy.

The appellate court concluded that Mr. Petra had occupied his motorcycle from the moment of impact with Mr. Nalewak’s vehicle, through ejection, and until his body came to rest on the ground, and he was not entitled to UIM benefits.

The case is Petra v. Pennsylvania National Mutual Casualty Ins. Co., No. 505 MDA 2018 (Pa. Super. Ct. Jan. 16, 2019).