Policy Exclusions – Automobile

Mineral Wells lawyers need to be able to give advice regarding insurance policy exclusions. The 1966, Texas Supreme Court case styled, Williams v. Cimarron Insurance Co. is a good place to start. Here is some information about this case.
This is an action to recover medical, hospital and funeral expenses under the medical payments provision of an automobile insurance policy issued by Cimarron Insurance Co., Inc. The facts are stipulated and the controlling question is whether the stock car racer here involved is comprehended by the definition of ‘automobile’ contained in coverage C of the policy. The trial court held that it was not and rendered judgment that Williams, take nothing against the insurance company. The Court of Civil Appeals at Amarillo affirmed. This court ruled that the judgment of the Court of Civil Appeals was correct.
Jimmy Ray Williams, his wife and their minor son, James Richard Williams, were spectators at a race track located on private property when one of the stock car racers careened through the fence and struck all the members of the Williams family. Mr. and Mrs. Williams sustained serious personal injuries and James Richard was killed. The racer which struck them was a stripped-down 1947 Ford sedan with a 1954 Mercury motor owned by Carl Osborn and Robert R. Riddle. The vehicle had been originally manufactured by the Ford Motor Company, but it had been modified by Robert R. Riddle about a year prior to the accident and converted into a stock car racer and after modification, the vehicle had no tail lights, headlights or window glass. A screen wire served as a species of windshield. In front the car had a safety bar and two angle irons coming to a point about two and one-half (2 1/2) feet in front of the radiator, but it had no fenders, bumpers or horn. It was equipped with heavy-duty tie rods and spindles and oversized tires. The speedmeter cable was not connected and it was either towed or carried on a trailer to and from the race track. The vehicle was not licensed by the State of Oklahoma or any other state for operation upon the public roads and highways.
The Policy Provisions
The pertinent provisions of the policy are as follows: (The italicized portions of the policy provisions form the basis of the dispute in this case.)
‘Coverage C–Automobile Medical Payments: To pay all reasonable expenses incurred within one year from the date of accident for necessary medical, surgical and dental services, including prosthetic devices, and necessary ambulance, hospital, professional nursing and funeral services: * * *
‘Division 2. To or for each insured who sustains bodily injury, sickness or disease, caused by accident, while in or upon, or while entering into or alighting from, or Through being struck by, an automobile. * * *
‘IV. Automobile Defined (U)nder division 2 of coverage C, the word ‘automobile’ means a land motor vehicle or trailer not operated on rails or crawler-treads, but does not mean: (1) a farm type tractor or Other equipment designed for use principally off public roads, except while actually upon public roads, or (2) a land motor vehicle or trailer while located for use as a residence or premises and not as a vehicle.’

The stock car racer which figured in the tragedy giving rise to this lawsuit is undoubtedly a land motor vehicle not operated on rails or crawler treads. It was an automobile within the usual meaning of the term, but the controlling question is whether such racer comes within the policy clause which states that the term ‘automobile’ does not mean ‘(a) a farm type tractor or other equipment designed for use principally off public roads, except while actually upon public roads. * * *’
Upon the date of the accident, the racer was a vehicle designed for use principally off public roads. It was so equipped or under-equipped that it could neither be licensed nor lawfully used upon the public highways. Williams argued that the words ‘other equipment’ must be construed as meaning something similar to a ‘farm type tractor’ under the rule of Ejusdem generis or Noscitur a sociis. It is argued that the stock racer being a land motor vehicle and not being a piece of equipment similar to a farm type tractor, one who sustains bodily injury by being struck by such racer may recover under the Automobile Medical Payments clause of the policy. As further supporting this construction, it is said that a farm type tractor or equipment similar thereto may upon occasion be lawfully driven upon the public roads while the racer could not, because it lacks the basic equipment necessary to qualify it for public road use. It is said that, ‘Unless it can be argued. * * * that the insurer intended to cover operations upon a public road in violation of law, then it is abundantly clear that what the policy provisions exclude is that type of ‘other equipment’ that can be operated upon the roadway on limited occasions.’
This court was unable to agree with William’s argument. The restrictive proviso designates two distinct classifications. It plainly states that the word automobile does not mean ‘a farm type tractor or other equipment designed for use principally off public roads’. The phrase ‘designed for use principally off public roads’ does not convey the notion that something similar to a farm type tractor was intended by the contracting parties.