Pedestrians and Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Coverage

One of the more confusing parts of motor vehicle insurance is Uninsured and Underinsured Motorist coverage under Parts 3 and 12 of the standard Massachusetts Automobile Insurance Policy, now in its seventh edition.

Uninsured motorist coverage (UM) and Underinsured coverage (UIM) act as personal accident insurance for the named insured and household members if they are injured in a motor vehicle accident whether or not they are occupying a vehicle at the time,  including pedestrian accidents.

The coverages trigger if and when the person responsible for the accident is either unknown or uninsured, or when that person’s insurance policy limit is insufficient to compensate the injured person for the extent of damages.

If the injured person owns a vehicle, then that person’s UM or UIM coverage applies, otherwise the household policy with the highest limits applies. Therefore, a person who is a household member of an insured can recover uninsured or underinsured benefits despite not owning or even occupying an auto at the time of the accident. UM coverage is required in Massachusetts policies; UIM coverage is optional. The limit of UM coverage must be at least $25,000. per person/$50,000. per accident, and the limit of neither UM or UIM can exceed the optional bodily injury limits for the policy.

In a recent case involving underinsured motorist coverage, the Superior Court was presented the issue of whether a person injured while traveling about 35 mph on a motorized dirt bike could recover benefits under a household policy. In the case of Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance Company v. Perez, the trial court judge noted that the policy definition of “auto” specifically excluded a “dirt bike” and, therefore, Perez would have to qualify as a “pedestrian” to be entitled to benefits under the policy. The insurer argued that “characterizing Perez as a “pedestrian” when at the time of the accident he was on a motorized vehicle traveling at a significant rate of speed” would “stretch the meaning of the term “pedestrian” well beyond the breaking point.” The insurer further noted that the definition of “pedestrian” in the statute governing Personal Injury Protection benefits under an automobile policy limited the term to persons traveling on foot or using non-motorized transportation such as bicycles, horses, horse drawn vehicles and the like, and that Part 2 of the insurance policy excluded PIP benefits for anyone operating or occupying a motorized bicycle at the time of the accident.

In finding that Perez was, nevertheless, a “pedestrian” for the purposes of underinsured motorist coverage, the judge noted that the definition of “pedestrian” in the PIP statute did not carry over into the separate statute governing UIM benefits, and that, UIM coverage is, likewise, included under a separate and distinct part of the policy.

The judge further found that because Perez could not purchase underinsured motorist coverage for the operation of the dirt bike which is not a vehicle subject to registration and insurance in Massachusetts, he stood “in essentially the same position as does any pedestrian with respect to the public policy underlying the creation of uninsured and underinsured coverage” to protect the named insured and all household members in the event of death or injury caused by the negligence of an uninsured or underinsured motorist whether such accident victims are occupants of a motor vehicle or pedestrians and wherever they may be.