The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals has issued an important decision regarding automobile insurance and the issue of Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).
The decision was issued in the case of Boniey v. Kuchinski & State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, Case # 34152, May 14, 2009.
Plaintiff Boniey was injured as a passenger while riding off-road (not on a public highway) on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) . The liability insurer of the ATV denied coverage for the accident, thus the ATV was uninsured. Ms. Boniey proceeded to made a claim against her insurer, State Farm, seeking Uninsured Motorist (UM) Coverage under her own automobile policy.
State Farm denied the UM claim on the basis that the ATV did not qualify as an uninsured motor vehicle because it was not being operated on a public road at the time of the accident. Ms. Boniey sued State Farm seeking the UM coverage. The lower Circuit Court (Brooke County, WV) granted summary judgment in favor of the Plaintiff, finding that the policy exclusion which State Farm relied upon violated the uninsured motorist statute (WV Code 33-6-31(b).) State Farm appealed that ruling to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.
On appeal, the WV Supreme Court unanimously reversed the lower Court's ruling. The WV Supreme Court held that an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) is not an "uninsured motor vehicle" within the meaning of WV Code 33-6-31(b). The State Farm policy excluded UM coverage for ATVs while being operated "off-road" with the following language: "An uninsured vehicle does not include a motor vehicle…..designed for use mainly off public roads, except while on public roads." The Supreme Court found that those motor vehicles which are not required to be registered and licensed pursuant to WV Code 17A-3-1 are exempted from the mandatory security provisions of the Motor Vehicle Financial Security law (WV Code 17D-4-2). Therefore, because ATVs are not required to be registered and licensed in this State, such vehicles are also exempt from the financial responsibility requirements of WV Code 17D-4-2.
The WV Supreme Court issued two new syllabus points of law in this decision:
- A motor vehicle that is not required to be registered and licensed pursuant to W. Va. Code § 17A-3-1, et seq. is excepted from the mandatory security provisions in the Motor Vehicle Safety Responsibility Law including motor vehicle liability coverage mandated by W. Va. Code § 17D-4-2.
- A provision in a motor vehicle liability insurance policy excluding an off-road all-terrain vehicle or ATV from uninsured motorist coverage does not violate the intent and purpose of the uninsured motorist statute at W. Va. Code § 33-6-31(b).
The Court noted that "[T]he purpose of protecting persons injured on public highways is not advanced by requiring an automobile insurance policy's uninsured motorist provision to cover off-road ATVs…….Simply put, WV Code 33-6-31 governs the requirements of automobile insurance policies covering automobiles and other vehicles designed for operation on public highways and not the operation of vehicles designed for off-road use such as ATVs."
The Court held that a vehicle which is not required to carry liability insurance coverage under the financial responsibility law is not an "uninsured motor vehicle" within the meaning of WV Code 33-6-31(b). Accordingly, the Court concluded that those provisions in a motor vehicle liability insurance policy which exclude an off-road ATV from UM coverage do not violate the intent and purpose of the uninsured motorist statute at WV Code 33-6-31(b).