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Use Of A Motor Vehicle: Not As Straightforward As You Might Think

In Massachusetts motor vehicle insurance coverage is governed by statute and the terms of the specific policy issued by each insurer. The Automobile Insurers Bureau (AIB), a private organization, provides a standard policy that insurers can (and most do) adopt. The standard policy along with any revisions can be found at the AIB website www.aib.org. Under the current Massachusetts (Personal) Automobile Insurance Policy, an accident is defined as “an unexpected, unintended event that causes bodily injury or property damage arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an auto.”

Car Accident Use Factors

The term “use” extends to any activity involving the vehicle that is related to its usual course of operation. Most motor vehicle accidents happen in the context of driving the vehicle and, therefore, can be easily categorized as involving the use of the motor vehicle, but there are many situations that can arise where people and vehicles meet. Determining whether auto insurance coverage applies then focuses on the connection between the insured vehicle and the accident under the specific context and facts of the case including the relationship between the use of the motor vehicle, the insured and the injuries or damages claimed.

Types of Motor Vehicle Use

In one case, the Supreme Judicial Court determined that the motor vehicle insurance policy applied to cover injuries sustained when an insured stopped his car and sounded his horn to pick up an acquaintance and a dog jumped through his open window and bit him. The court found that the dog was “incited” by the arrival of the vehicle and sounding of the horn such that the attack and resulting injuries arose out of the use of the vehicle which set the dog in motion. In another case where a vehicle was rear-ended by a tractor-trailer, the court found that the placement of a pick-up truck in the roadway which blocked a lane of travel to assist in tree stump-grinding was a “source” of the accident and, therefore, the pick-up truck’s policy  applied.

Use of a motor vehicle can also include use as a passenger, and coverage may be found where a passenger causes an accident by interfering with the operation of the vehicle. In the situation of an accident caused by a driver operating with a learner’s permit, the front passenger seat sponsor is by statute responsible for control of the motor vehicle, such that the accident is deemed to arise out of the sponsor’s use as well as that of the actual driver and insurance covers both driver and sponsor.

Interpretation of Car Accidents and Use

Although the court has broadly interpreted the term “use,” coverage does not extend to ituations where an injury was sustained independently of the use of a vehicle. In one case, following a two car accident, one driver was attacked and beaten by the other driver who then left without identifying himself. In finding that the injured driver could not recover uninsured motorist coverage under his own policy, the court determined that the battery was “sufficiently independent of the motor vehicle accident” that the injured driver’s losses “arose from the intentional wrongdoing of the other driver and not from the use of an automobile.”

Free Consultation

If you were injured in a car accident, contact Attorney Bob Allison now for a free consultation by calling (978) 740-9433 or filling out our free consultation form. We look forward to talking to you about your Massachusetts personal injury claim.