Sunday, August 11, 2013

Rottie Bite Out Car Window Not Ownership, Maintenance or Use of Motor Vehicle

Matter of Allstate v. Reyes
(2nd Dept., decided 8/7/2013)

Deborah Reyes was walking past a parked car at a Sunoco Mart in Poughkeepsie, New York, when a rottweiler dog extended its head from inside the vehicle and bit her right breast. Reyes sued  the vehicle's owner, Michael Kazimer, which GEICO, the insurer of Kazimer's vehicle, later settled for $25,000, the limits of the policy. Reyes then sought SUM coverage from her own auto insurer, Allstate. Allstate denied SUM coverage, concluding that the incident did not arise "out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an underinsured vehicle." Reyes demanded arbitration of her SUM claim, and Allstate commenced this special proceeding to permanently stay arbitration. Supreme Court, Dutchess County (Pagone, J.) denied the petition, concluding that the incident had arisen "out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an underinsured vehicle."  Allstate appealed.

In REVERSING Supreme Court's order and granting the petition to stay arbitration, the Appellate Division, Second Department, held:
Underinsured endorsements, such as the one at issue in this case, provide coverage only when the injuries are the result of an accident "arising out of such [underinsured's] motor vehicle's ownership, maintenance or use" (11 NYCRR 60-2.3[2][e][2]; see Matter of Liberty Mut. Fire Ins. Co. [Malatino], 75 AD3d 967, 968). Use of an automobile encompasses more than simply driving it, and includes all necessary incidental activities such as entering and leaving its confines (see Rowell v Utica Mut. Ins. Co., 77 NY2d 636, 638). To satisfy the requirement that it arose out of the "ownership, maintenance or use of" a motor vehicle, the accident must have arisen out of the inherent nature of the automobile and, as such, inter alia, the automobile must not merely contribute to the condition which produces the injury, but must, itself, produce the injury (see Zaccari v Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 35 AD3d 597, 599; Eagle Ins. Co. v Butts, 269 AD2d 558, 559-560; U.S. Oil Ref. & Mktg. Corp. v Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 181 AD2d 768). "[T]he vehicle itself need not be the proximate cause of the injury," but "negligence in the use of the vehicle must be shown, and that negligence must be a cause of the injury" (Zaccari v Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 35 AD3d at 599; see Empire Ins. Co. v Schliessman, 306 AD2d 512, 513). "To be a cause of the injury, the use of the motor vehicle must be closely related to the injury" (Zaccari v Progressive Northwestern Ins. Co., 35 AD3d at 599).

Here, as a matter of law, Reyes's injuries did not result from the inherent nature of Kazimer's vehicle, nor did the vehicle itself produce the injuries. The injuries were caused by Kazimer's dog, and the vehicle merely contributed to the condition which produced the injury, namely, the location or situs for the injury. Allstate established that a causal relationship between the car and the incident was lacking, and Reyes failed to rebut that showing (see Empire Ins. Co. v Schliessman, 306 AD2d at 513; Eagle Ins. Co. v Butts, 269 AD2d at 559; see also Keppler v American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 588 NW2d 105; Sanchez v State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 878 P2d 31; Alvarino by Alvarino v Allstate Ins. Co., 370 Pa Super 563; American States Ins. Co. v Allstate Ins. Co., 484 So 2d 1363). Accordingly, since coverage is lacking, the Supreme Court should have granted the petition to permanently stay arbitration.
It was the dog, not the car, that caused Reyes' injuries, so no SUM coverage.  But can someone explain to me why GEICO paid its policy limit in the first place?


Unknown said...

Leaving the dog in the car unatteneded would seem to aggravate the dog and be causality.

Roy A. Mura said...

Still wouldn't be covered under a standard personal auto policy.

Unknown said...

Its quite simple, GEICO screwed up.