Insurance Policy Exceptions in Automobile Accidents

Automobile insurance policies are a means of protecting car drivers and accident victims. It creates a pool of money so that any party at fault can make the victim of his or her negligence whole. When a business holds itself out as a car dealer, policy terms are a little different based on each party and insurer. An insurance policy agreement between the insurer and the insured is a contract between the parties. Under Louisiana law, words in a contract are presumed to have the plain and ordinary meaning they are generally given. The basic intent of the parties is construed through the words of the contract, and no court can disturb the intent of the parties. If an insurer is attempting to show that a certain provision in an insurance policy exempts coverage, the insurer has the burden to prove any exception.

In a recent case, a court discussed how insurance policy language will be interpreted. The facts giving rise to the cause of action in McKay v. W & J Farms, are as follows:

The plaintiff, Connie McKay, was driving South on Highway 153 in Richland Parish. As she travelled through an intersection, her vehicle was struck on the side by a tractor driven by Kyle Mills. Ms. McKay claims that an insurance policy held by the seller of the tractor extended to Mr. Mills when he was driving the tractor. The way in which Mr. Mills came to be driving that vehicle at the very moment are interesting and are crucial in relation to the cause of action. Mr. Mills works on a farm with his brother and another individual, Mr. Livingston. The three individuals decided that it was important that they purchase another tractor to increase productivity on the farm. Mr. Livingston and Mr. Mill’s father went to a Peterbuilt tractor dealership in order to check prices of tractors. Mr. Livingston brought a tractor to the farm to test it out. Mr. Mills was advised to drive the tractor from the farm to the elevator. During this fateful drive, he struck Ms. McKay at the intersection with Highway 153.

Ms. McKay argued that the Peterbuilt dealer’s insurance coverage extends to Mr. Mills as he was driving the tractor. The insurance company’s policy with the Peterbuilt dealer states in relevant part:

The following are insured for covered autos…anyone else while using with your permission a covered auto you own, hire, or borrow, except…Your customers, if your business is shown in the Declarations as an auto dealership.

In the Peterbuilt dealers business declaration, the business was declared a car dealership. Ms. McKay argued that there is a distinction between auto dealership, as is stated in the insurance policy, and car dealership, as is stated in the declaration. There is obviously no real distinction between these terms. From a logical perspective, a person reading these two terms would find that they are identical. The next question is whether Mr. Mills was a customer of the Peterbuilt dealer. The facts in the case showed that Mr. Mills’ brother was going to be the actual purchaser of the tractor. However, under Louisiana law, a person test driving a vehicle in order to help a purchaser make a decision of whether to purchase that vehicle is considered an extension of the purchaser. This means that the test driver is a customer in the eyes of the law. Therefore, when Mr. Mills was driving the tractor he was a customer and under the terms of the dealer’s contract with the insurance provider, Mr. Mills was not covered under the policy.

Insurance policies are difficult and complex contractual agreements. In order to understand policies, a general understanding of the law is essential. If you have been involved in an accident, you are likely going to have to deal with an insurance company.

Call the Berniard Law Firm to speak with an attorney who can advise you of your rights under your insurance policy.

Contact Information