Washington High Court Decides What Constitutes ‘Use’ for UIM Coverage Attachment

By Steven Plitt | March 15, 2016

In certification from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington in Heidi Kroeber v. GEICO Ins. Co., 2016 WL 166528 (Wash. Ct. App., decided Jan. 14, 2016), the Washington Supreme Court, answered the District Court’s certified question regarding what constituted vehicle use for purposes of underinsured motorist UIM coverage. The case in question involved a shooting episode where the shooter was driving an uninsured truck belonging to a friend at the time he opened fire on the plaintiff. The shooter claimed that he did not intend to injure anyone when he fired the gun and further asserted that he did not know that he was shooting where people were standing.

The Washington Supreme Court acknowledged that the Washington cases had not yet established what constituted vehicle “use” for purposes of UIM coverage. The Washington Supreme Court, en banc, found that an injury “arises out of” vehicle use for purposes of UIM coverage “if some causal connection exists between a condition of, an attachment to, or some aspect of the vehicle’s use and the resulting injury.” Conversely, “an injury does not ‘arise out of’ vehicle use when the vehicle is merely the situs of the accident.”

The test adopted by the Washington Court is very broad. Under this test, “but for” causation is not necessary nor is “proximate causation.” What the Court meant by “some causal connection” is unclear. How remote can the causal connection be? As the question implies, the boundary line for causation in the state of Washington will depend upon the orientation of the trial court and its proclivity to reach a result oriented decision. There is ample case law imposing boundary lines for “but for” causation and “proximate causation.” Unfortunately, the test used in the state of Washington is not tethered to either of these well-known concepts.

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About Steven Plitt

Steven Plitt is the current successor author to Couch on Insurance, 3d. He maintains a national coverage practice with The Cavanagh Law Firm. He has been listed continuously as one of Arizona's 50 lawyers by Southwest Super Lawyers. He can be reached splitt@cavanaghlaw.com. To read additional articles by Steven Plitt, go to www.insuranceexpertplitt.com. More from Steven Plitt

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