The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that an independent contractor was an employee and subject to an injury to employee exclusion in a commercial auto policy issued to an interstate trucking company in the absence of a policy definition of the term “employee” because the federal motor carrier regulations define it. Progressive Mountain Ins. Co. v. Madd Transp., LLC, 2015 WL 8105287 (11th Cir. Dec. 8, 2015).

A driver for the insured was injured while loading pipe onto his truck. The insured tendered its defense of the underlying lawsuit arising from the incident to its commercial auto insurer, which filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that it had no duty to defend or indemnify based on the policy’s injury to employee exclusion. The term “employee” was not defined in the subject policy. The insured argued that the exclusion was inapplicable because the driver was an independent contractor – not an employee. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the insurer, finding that the policy was drafted in accordance with the federal motor carrier regulations, which included independent contractors in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle in the definition of “employee.” The insured appealed.

The Eleventh Circuit, applying Georgia law, affirmed. The Eleventh Circuit held that although the policy itself did not define “employee,” it was subject to federal motor carrier regulations, which do define the term as including independent contractors in the course of operating a commercial motor vehicle. Accordingly, the Eleventh Circuit found that the employee exclusion relieved the insurer from its duty to defend or indemnify.