Sunday, August 9, 2015

Police Vehicle Is Not a "Motor Vehicle" Covered by a SUM Endorsement

Matter of State Farm Mut. Auto Insur. Co. v. Fitzgerald
(Ct. Apps., decided 7/1/2015)

While riding in a patrol car being driven by State Farm's named insured (Knauss), a fellow police officer (Fitzgerald) was injured in an accident with an underinsured motor vehicle.

Question:  Is Fitzgerald entitled to SUM coverage under the SUM endorsement of Knauss's personal auto policy, which covers injuries to "any other person while occupying" Knauss's personal vehicle or "any other motor vehicle while being operated by [the named insured] or [the named insured's] spouse". The policy did not define the term "motor vehicle."

Answer:  No.  A police vehicle is not a "motor vehicle" covered by a SUM endorsement under New York Insurance Law § 3420(f)(2)(A).

In REVERSING the Appellate Division's denial of State Farm's petition to permanently stay arbitration of Fitzgerald's SUM claim, the Court of Appeals in a 4-3 decision held:
An unbroken line of historical practice, legislative history, statutory text and precedent establishes that a SUM endorsement prescribed by Insurance Law § 3420 (f)(2)(A) exempts police vehicles from its definition of the term "motor vehicle" absent a specific provision to the contrary in a given SUM endorsement. Since there is no contrary provision in the SUM endorsement here, it does not cover liability for injuries arising from the use of a police vehicle of the sort occupied by Fitzgerald during his accident. While Fitzgerald may pursue the available remedies, if any, under the No-Fault Law, a lawsuit or any insurance policy he has purchased for himself, he cannot recover under the SUM endorsement of Knauss's policy, and the Appellate Division erred in overturning the stay of arbitration under that policy. Accordingly, the order of the Appellate Division should be reversed, with costs, and the petition for a permanent stay of arbitration granted.

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