N.H. Court: Motorcyle Hit-Run Victim Covered by Auto Uninsured Coverage

An auto policy’s uninsured motorist coverage is triggered for a motorcyclist killed by a hit-and-run driver after being thrown onto the roadway from his bike, which was not insured, according to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

The victim’s auto insurer, Amica Mutual Insurance, had argued it was not required to cover the biker’s death because he was riding his uninsured motorcycle, not his insured auto, when the accident began. The policy’s uninsured motorist coverage had an owned vehicle exclusion.

But the state Supreme Court has ruled that the uninsured coverage applies because the victim was not actually occupying the motorcycle at the time of the hit-and-run that killed him.

In April of 2005, John Miller was the victim of a hit-and-run accident when his motorcycle got caught in a rut in the roadway and he was thrown 40 feet from it. A passerby stopped to help him and to reroute traffic, but Miller ultimately was hit by an oncoming vehicle while lying in the road. He later died from the injuries he sustained. Although the vehicle that hit him stopped briefly, it later fled, and neither it nor its driver has ever been identified.

The victim’s Amica auto policy contained uninsured motorist coverage that also included an owned vehicle exclusion precluding coverage for any injuries sustained “[b]y an insured while occupying, or when struck by, any motor vehicle owned by that insured which is not insured for this coverage under this [p]olicy.” Occupying is defined as “in, upon, getting in, on, out or off” of a vehicle.

After Miller’s death, his estate sought compensation for injuries under the policy’s uninsured motorist coverage provisions.

The high court decision affirms a superior court finding.

The issue became whether the decedent was “occupying” the motorcycle for purposes of the owned vehicle exclusion. The lower court had ruled that the term “occupying” was not ambiguous, and that Miller was not occupying his motorcycle at the time he was hit.

Amica had contended that Miller was “occupying” the motorcycle because he had not reached a place of safety and had not severed his connection to the motorcycle. The insurer also argued that an insured could not reasonably expect coverage under the circumstances.

Agreeing with Miller’s lawyers and the lower court, the state’s high court court said it is reasonable to conclude that someone who has been ejected from his motorcycle, and left lying in the highway 40 feet away for between 30 seconds and one and one half minutes, “is no longer ‘occupying’ the motorcycle.”

Amica further argued that nothing in New Hampshire law requires uninsured motorist coverage for persons not “occupying” a vehicle listed in the policy. While that is true, the New Hampshire court said, its “holding is not that New Hampshire law, in its own right, requires coverage. Instead, it is that Amica’s policy – which it drafted – provides coverage under the circumstances here present.”

The court added that if Amica wishes a different result, it might redraft its policy.