Neil Smith was struck by a John Deere tractor on a road in Moffat, CO. The tractor's hay spears penetrated the truck causing serious injury. Robert Bunker, the operator of the tractor, pled guilty to reckless driving, and his insurance company paid the claim in accordance with the policy limits. Those limits were insufficient to fully cover the costs relating to the injury. Smith filed an underinsured motorist claim with State Farm, his insurer. State Farm denied the claim explaining that the tractor is not an actual motor vehicle. Smith filed suit claiming a breach of contract; however, the court agreed that the tractor was not an applicable motor vehicle based on the underinsured auto policy.
Plaintiff's Appeal Argument
Smith disagreed with the court's findings, arguing that the definition in the uninsured motor vehicle section of the policy did apply to the tractor. He felt that the insurer was required to provide coverage according to statute, and public policies that are in support of it.
Defining a Motor Vehicle
The wording of the policy did not refer specifically to whether a tractor would be considered a motor vehicle. The courts had previously interpreted insurance policy language with the assistance of dictionaries to define ordinary words. The court explained that the term is essentially an automobile that does not operate on rails, and has rubber tires for highway usage; motor vehicles have wheels, motors, and do not ride on rails or tracks. State Farm contends that the correct definition is one for use “primarily” on streets or highways; they felt the tractor was primarily for off-road usage.
About the Tractor
There was no dispute that the tractor had wheels and a motor, and was not operated on rails or tracks. The owner's manual explained it was designed for usage upon roads and highways, and had a segment on proper highway operation. It further discussed the usage of the tractor's lights, signals for turning, low and high beam headlights, as well as taillights.
Appeals Court Ruling
Even if proceeding under State Farm's definition stating that a motor vehicle is “one designed primarily for usage on streets and highways”, the insurance policy's description is undefined and thus ambiguous. The policy's undefined language makes it susceptible to multiple interpretations; in such ambiguous situations, the court construes in favor of coverage. In reviewing the basic definitions of a motor vehicle, it seemed the tractor would qualify, and the court reversed the prior judgment.
Many devastating motor vehicle accidents result from the carelessness or negligence of a driver. The Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal protects the legal interests of those who have become injury victims from such unfortunate actions. They are strongly committed to obtaining the highest possible financial compensation for the losses and hardship you have endured. Contact the office in Denver today for a free consultation.