Are ATVs “Motor Vehicles” for Insurance Purposes? Virginia Court Suggests “Yes”

ATV Accidents

A judge in the Western District of Virginia may have given victims of ATV accidents a green light to file uninsured motorist claims. This could allow them to tap additional insurance company assets to pay compensatory damages. The ruling issued February 24th came as Judge Glen Conrad denied summary judgment to an insurance company in a case entitled Porter v. Buck. Now, the plaintiff, Abigail Porter, can go forward with her case to see if her father’s insurance company will have to pay $500,000 for the traumatic brain injury she suffered while riding in a friend’s ATV.

On July 28th of 2012, Ms. Porter was injured while riding on a public road on an all-terrain vehicle driven by Jacob Buck. Ms. Porter’s injury exceeded the limit of Mr. Buck’s coverage for his ATV, so the Porter family felt they should be able to file a claim with their own insurer which had promised to pay “in accordance with the Virginia Uninsured Motorists Law, all sums the “insured” is legally entitled to recover as damages from the owner or operator of an “uninsured motor vehicle.””

The insurer balked at paying uninsured motorist coverage, claiming that an ATV is not a motor vehicle, and asked the court to grant them a summary judgment to that effect. The court responded with a denial. The court found that an ATV is “a self-propelled wheeled conveyance that does not run on rails,” and it sufficiently fit the definition of a motor vehicle. So, does that mean that, by law, an ATV is a motor vehicle? Maybe, but maybe not.

The court in its opinion states that since this was a motion for summary judgment, it had to interpret ambiguous language in favor of the plaintiff, Ms. Porter. A trial court is not going to be under such constraints. The trial court can also consider facts not in evidence in the motion for summary judgment. Moreover, with half a million dollars at stake, it is likely that the party disappointed at trial will appeal the ruling. So the issue is far from settled, but for the moment it looks like plaintiffs injured in ATV accidents may have another avenue of compensation to explore.

However, that avenue may be short lived. Insurance scribes are no doubt sharpening their pencils and preparing to draft limiting language into riders for uninsured motorist protection. The court stated that the insurer might “have excluded ATVs from the… uninsured motorist coverage without violating the minimum requirements imposed under Virginia law,” but “failed to do so in a clear and unambiguous manner.” We are sure that insurers are taking notice of this case and will draft future policies accordingly.

If you have questions about your rights after an ATV accident, get knowledgeable legal assistance at Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban. Our dedicated attorneys make every effort to maximize the amount your can recover for your injuries.

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