The Rhode Island Supreme Court in Hudson v. GEICO Insurance Agency, Inc., 161 A.3d 1150 (R.I. 2017) recently held, as a matter of first impression, that a passenger riding in an insured vehicle who exited the vehicle in order to render assistance to accident victims as a good Samaritan continued to be an occupant of the insured vehicle when struck by another vehicle at the accident scene.
The Rhode Island courts use a four-part test in determining whether a person is occupying an insured vehicle for purposes of Uninsured Motorist (UM) coverage. In General Accident Insurance Co. of America v. Olivier, 574 A.2d 1240, 1241 (R.I. 1990) the Rhode Island Supreme Court adopted a four-factor test for occupancy requiring the following: (1) a causal relationship or connection between the injury and the use of the insured vehicle; (2) the person asserting occupancy must be in reasonable close geographic proximity to the insured vehicle although the person need not be actually touching it; (3) the person must be vehicle-oriented rather than highway or sidewalk-oriented; and (4) the person must be engaged in a transaction essential to the use of the vehicle.
In the Hudson case, Amber Lee Hudson was riding as a passenger in her boyfriend’s vehicle. Her boyfriend was insured by GEICO. The couple had arrived at a department store and were sitting in the insured vehicle talking for one to two minutes when they heard a car crash. Both the boyfriend and Ms. Hudson exited the vehicle and ran to the scene where the crash occurred. While at the scene of the prior accident, Hudson was standing at the rear of the vehicles, taking down information regarding their license plate numbers. At that moment, Hudson was struck by a third vehicle which had come upon the accident scene. Hudson then collected the tortfeasor’s policy limits and presented a claim to GEICO for UM coverage (UIM was defined within the UM coverage). The Rhode Island Supreme Court found that Hudson was occupying the insured vehicle at the time of the collision.
First, the court found a causal relationship in connection with Hudson’s injury and the use of the insured vehicle. The court found that this requirement was met because Hudson was sitting as a passenger within the vehicle when she heard the collision and then exited the vehicle in order to offer Good Samaritan assistance at the nearby scene. The parties did not dispute that at the time of Hudson’s injury Hudson was in reasonably close geographic proximity to the insured vehicle.
Turning to the question of whether Hudson was vehicle-oriented, the court found that where a passenger’s departure from an insured vehicle is incident to a temporary interruption in an otherwise continuing excursion, and on completion of the occasion causing the brief interruption the individual returns to continue on his joint venture, that individual remains vehicle oriented. The court found that Hudson’s departure from the insured vehicle was incident to a temporary interruption in an otherwise unfinished excursion into the department store and that, upon completion of the occurrence causing the interruption, Hudson intended to resume her journey.
Finally, the last question to be resolved was whether Hudson was engaged in a transaction essential to the use of the vehicle at the time of her injuries. The court found that she was. Under Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan Statute, GL.1956 §11-56-1, Hudson’s willingness to render aid at the scene of the collision as a good Samaritan was an inherent part of the use of a motor vehicle within Rhode Island. The court reached this conclusion on Rhode Island’s long-standing public policy to encourage the rescue of others from perilous situations and therefore the court was satisfied that a motorist who existed a vehicle in order to provide reasonable assistance to victims at the scene of an accident was engaged in a transaction essential to the use of that vehicle.
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