Many property owners purchase homeowners insurance to protect their homes from a variety of perils like fire, lightning, hail, explosions, etc. But another reason why homeowners buy insurance is to protect their wallets from people injured on their property. Just like one purpose of automobile insurance is to compensate yourself or someone else when they are injured from a car accident, homeowners insurance provides liability coverage in certain circumstances where another person is injured on the covered property or in the home. An important distinction is that, unlike car insurance where a driver can protect themselves against other drivers through uninsured motorist coverage, homeowners insurance only provides liability coverage for other people on the property—not the homeowners themselves.
Where the 2 worlds combine is in the event of an accident and injury involving a car that occurs on someone’s property or in their driveway. On one hand, the injury was caused a by car covered by car insurance. But on the other, the injury occurred on a property covered by homeowner’s insurance. Insurance companies try to draft their policies so that only one policy can apply. But often, the line between one policy and the other is unclear.
What the courts say:
In 2015, Barbara Wilkinson went to Paul Buchanan’s house to look at and inspect a truck Buchanan recently purchased. Buchanan turned on the truck, placed it in neutral, and set the emergency brake. As Wilkinson reached for the “hood latch” to inspect the engine, the emergency brake was pulled instead. The truck rolled over Wilkinson’s ankles causing her to fall. The result was multiple leg fractures, a shoulder fracture, and a left knee injury.
Georgia Farm Bureau provided homeowners insurance for Buchanan’s house, but argued that the policy excluded coverage for Wilkinson’s injuries since they “arose out of the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of motor vehicles”—a provision in their homeowner’s policy which excluded coverage for auto accidents.
The Court of Appeals had to make the determination of whether the truck was “in use” at the time it rolled over Wilkinson. They used three factors to make that determination:
- The physical proximate of the injury site to the vehicle;
- The nature of the conduct which caused the situation of jeopardy; and
- Whether the vehicle was being utilized in the plain and ordinary sense of the word “use”.
Essentially, the question was whether the vehicle was being used as a vehicle at the time of the injury.
In the case of Wilkinson, the Court held that while the truck was near the location of the accident, the accident was caused by the pulling of the emergency brake, and the accident happened while examining the truck’s components, the truck was not “in use as a vehicle” at the time of her injury. Instead, it was simply a parked truck that was being inspected—not one being driven up, down, or around the driveway.
The practical effect:
The good news from this Georgia Court of Appeals opinion is that the injury likely falls under one policy or the other—if a homeowners’ policy does not apply, a car insurance policy would. However, the coverage under these policies can be for different amounts. In Georgia the minimum amount of car insurance required to drive on the roads is $25,000.00. But a homeowner’s insurance policy’s coverage is usually tied to the value of the home. This can be tens, if not hundreds, of thousands more in coverage. So, where car insurance limits are low and the injuries are severe, there may be good reason to make the argument that a homeowner’s policy could apply.
Some people have additional insurance that provides coverage for amounts above their automobile and homeowner’s insurance policies. These coverages are often referred to as “umbrella policies.” An umbrella insurance policy is a policy that allows for someone to recover more money than the automobile insurance or homeowners insurance policies allow. It serves as an “umbrella” for the other policies and insures a person for amounts well above their other insurance limits. Whether your injury fits within a homeowner’s insurance policy or a car insurance policy, umbrella policies can provide additional coverage.
The lawyers at Rafi Law Firm know about insurance. If you or someone you know was injured in a car or truck accident, it is important that you speak with a lawyer who understands your options and what insurance policies you may be able to recover from. Call 404-800-9933 or click this link for a free consultation with a car and truck accident attorney at Rafi Law Firm. Rafi Law Firm has helped recover millions for their clients and may be able to help you.