Your auto insurance policy might cover a lot more things than you’d expect.

Feb 4, 2016

Most of the time, auto insurance is fairly straightforward. You’re typically covered for damage to your own car, and for damage you might do to other cars or property. You’re covered for injuries to yourself or others in an accident, for car theft, and possibly for roadside assistance or a rental car if your own car breaks down.

But auto insurance can cover a lot of other things that you might not expect. That’s why it’s always good to talk to a lawyer whenever there’s an injury or accident only a lawyer on your side can determine the full extent to which you might be compensated.

For example…

▶ Charles Walega tied a 1,500-pound gun safe to the hitch of his pickup truck with a rope, so he could move it in order to sell it. As his wife was driving the truck, dragging the safe along the driveway, it flipped over and injured Charles’ leg. The couple’s insurance company – State Farm – claimed that the accident wasn’t covered because the truck wasn’t being driven on a public road and because it was being used as a “tool” rather than as a means of transportation.

But the Michigan Court of Appeals sided with the Walegas. The court said it didn’t matter that the truck was on a private driveway, and it didn’t matter that it was being used to drag a safe, because people use pickup trucks to drag or pull things all the time. Dragging a safe is more unusual than hauling a boat, but it’s the same idea.

▶ Richard Sloane was a highway construction worker who was working with another man to lay asphalt near a shopping mall, using a front-end loader and a dump truck. Suddenly, two different drunk drivers – both of whom had just been kicked out of the same bar – crashed into the construction vehicles. Sloane was pinned between them and injured.

The two coverage under the auto insurance policies on the two construction vehicles. Once again, the insurance drunk drivers didn’t have enough insurance to compensate Sloane’s family, so the family sought company argued that the accident wasn’t covered – this time because Sloane wasn’t driving, using, or getting out of the vehicles at the time of the accident. But the Virginia Supreme Court sided with the family, and said Sloane was generally “using” the vehicles as part of his construction work when he was injured.

▶ Eleanor Borriello hired a company to transport her via a wheelchair van to an adult day-care center. The van employees parked on the street, strapped Eleanor in her wheelchair, and began bringing her outside. One of the employees slipped on Eleanor’s front porch, and Eleanor fell down the porch stairs.

Travelers, which insured the van, said the accident wasn’t covered under the automobile policy because it had nothing to do with the van itself. But the highest court in Massachusetts disagreed. The Travelers policy said that it covered accidents involving “loading and unloading” a vehicle. In this case, the workers were carrying Eleanor downstairs as part of their attempt to “load” her into the van.

▶ Marcia Rhodes was driving on a two-lane road which had been reduced to one lane while a tree trimmer worked in the area. The tree trimmer had parked his pickup truck in one lane and was grinding a stump near the roadway. A police officer directed Marcia to stop and wait for oncoming traffic, at which point a truck driver behind her, who wasn’t paying attention, crashed into her.

Marcia sued the truck driver, but she was also able to collect from the tree trimmer’s auto policy. The reason: The accident arose out of the trimmer’s use of the pickup truck when he parked it in such a way as to block traffic.

There are countless other cases like these in which an auto insurance policy covered an injury in a way you might not expect. Unless you consult an attorney, you’ll never know if you’re receiving all the compensation to which you’re entitled.