Insurance Lawyer And Policy Interpretation

Deer hunters in Grand Prairie, Arlington, Fort Worth, Hurst, Euless, Bedford, Mansfield, North Richland Hills, Saginaw, and other places in Tarrant County should find this case interesting. It shows how an experienced Insurance Law Attorney can help in making a recovery in an injury case.
The style of the case is, Farmers Insurance Exchange and Allstate County Mutual Insurance Company v Juan Rodriguez. The opinion in the case was issued on February 16, 2012, by the Houston Court of Appeals, 14th District. Here is some background.
Juan Rodriguez was injured while helping his neighbor Michael Woodling remove a deer stand from Woodling’s trailer. Rodriguez sued Woodling for negligence and, in the same case, Rodriguez’s automobile insurer, Allstate, seeking coverage under an uninsured/underinsured motorist (UIM) policy. Rodriguez later sued Woodling’s insurer, seeking liability coverage from Woodling under his homeowner’s policy. In a pre-trial partial summary judgment, the court declared the claims were covered by both insurance policies. At trial, the jury found Woodling negligent. The appeal was about the interpretation of the policies as it relates to this claim.
The following facts are undisputed. Using a trailer hitched to his pickup truck, Woodling transported a deer stand from his deer lease to his residence. He pulled into his driveway and attempted to remove the deer stand from his trailer. He pushed the deer stand out of the trailer until the legs on the stand touched the driveway. He left the stand resting at a 30-degree angle against the trailer. He then attached a come-along to a fence post and to the stand and attempted to raise the stand upright. Realizing he could not accomplish the task alone, he requested assistance from his neighbor, Rodriguez, who agreed to help.
Rodriguez and Woodling decided to lift the stand manually by walking forward out of the trailer and onto the driveway. They began in the trailer, each using both hands to push the stand upward. Then they stepped onto the driveway and took “one or two” more steps. When the stand was no longer touching the trailer, Woodling realized it was too heavy and yelled, “Juan, I can’t hold it. Jump.” Woodling jumped away, leaving Rodriguez alone to hold the stand, which weighed approximately 350 pounds. The stand fell and Rodriguez was injured.
The liability provisions of the Farmers homeowners policy contained the following exclusion for bodily injury claims: “arising out of the ownership, maintenance, operation, use, loading or unloading of … trailers or semi-trailers” except for “trailers or semi-trailers while not being towed by or carried on a motor vehicle.”
Rodriguez’s Allstate auto policy included UIM coverage for damages Rodriguez was “legally entitled to recover from the owner … of an uninsured [or underinsured] motor vehicle [including any type of trailer] because of bodily injury sustained by [Rodriguez and] caused by an accident.” Under the Allstate policy, the UIM owner’s liability must “arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the uninsured motor vehicle.”
This court reversed the lower court ruling as to Farmers based on the issue not being judicially “ripe” but upheld the ruling as to Allstate.
Allstate argued that the auto policy did not provide coverage for this injury. In reference to the “use” exclusion in the policy, Allstate contended that “loading and unloading” a trailer is not use as contemplated under the policy, and even it it were, there is no coverage because Rodriguez’s injury did not “arise out of” the use of the trailer.
In discussing this case, the court said that if Allstate intended to exclude loading and unloading from the scope of coverage, then it was incumbent upon it to expressly and clearly state the exclusion in the policy. Having failed to do so, Allstate may not now complain.
Allstate further argued that the injuries did not “arise out of” any use of the trailer. The Court disagreed stating, Texas courts broadly define “use” of a motor vehicle in the context of insurance policies. It is a “general catchall, designed and construed to include all proper uses of the vehicle. Texas courts have employed two treatises, Appleman, Insurance Law and Practice and Couch on Insurance, to help determine when a motor vehicle has been in “use” under a similar UIM provision:
–For an injury to fall within the “use” coverage of an automobile policy (1) the accident must have arisen out of the inherent nature of the automobile, as such; (2) the accident must have arisen within the natural territorial limits of an automobile, and the actual use must not have terminated; (3) the automobile must not merely contribute to cause the condition which produces the injury, but must itself produce the injury.–
The Court said that it is in the inherent nature of a trailer that it will be used to haul and tow materials. That process includes not only the immediate action of loading and unloading materials from the trailer but also moving them from their starting point to their destination. Using a trailer in this manner is “not an unexpected or unnatural use of the vehicle.”
The Texas Supreme Court has said “Loading and unloading embraces not only the immediate transference of the goods to or from the vehicle, but also the complete operation of transporting the goods between the vehicle and the place from or to which they are being delivered.” The court noted, “when a vehicle is being unloaded it is being used to the same extent as if it were being driven, and the person doing the unloading is entitled to the same protection as the owner or operator.”
As to causing the accident, Rodriguez’s accident would not have occurred if Rodriguez had not been assisting Woodling in unloading the deer stand from the trailer. The accident did not merely happen near the trailer: Woodling and Rodriguez could not have accomplished the same result without the presence of the trailer, and, the use of the trailer includes unloading materials.
This was a difficult case, based on the facts, and will probably be appealed.