Use Of An Automobile In An Insurance Policy

Weatherford insurance attorneys need to know about this recent case out of the Houston (14th) Court of Appeals. The style of the case is Farmers Insurance Exchange and Allstate County Mutual Insurance Company v. Juan Rodriguez. The opinion was issued in 2012.
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 the 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 2 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. 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 then 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 contain 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 semitrailers while not being towed by or carried on a motor vehicle.”
This case had several legal/procedural issues that will not be discussed. Suffice to say the case involved a motion for summary judgement and a declaratory judgment action.
In two issues, Allstate argued the trial court erred by denying its summary judgment motion against Rodriguez, granting summary judgment in favor of Rodriguez, and declaring that UIM language in his automobile policy provide coverage for his injury. In reference to the “use” exclusion, Allstate contended that “loading and unloading” a trailer is not use as contemplated under the Allstate policy, and even if it were, there is no coverage because Rodriguez’s injury did not “arise out of” the use of the trailer. The Court was not persuaded by these arguments.
The Allstate policy specified that liability of the owner of an uninsured or underinsured vehicle “must arise out of the ownership, maintenance,or use of the uninsuredmotor vehicle.” The term “use” is not defined in the policy. Allstate urged the Court to hold that “loading and unloading” is excluded because the “use” clause omits these activities as a matter of law. The Court declined to do so.
In its’ discussion the Court pointed out that Texas state and Federal Courts applying Texas law have concluded that automobile liability policies may cover loading and unloading of a vehicle even when those terms are not specifically included in the policy.
The parties did not cite, and research did not reveal, any Texas cases construing UIM policies that have held the term “use” without a “loading and unloading” clause excludes coverage for loading and unloading.
This case should be of interest to deer hunters and others who regularly or occasionally use trailers in their activities.