Use Of An Automobile

Dallas insurance lawyers understand that a key to being able to help a client is understanding how courts interpret insurance policies. A 14th Court of Appeals opinion gives some insight. The style of the case is, Farmers Insurance Exchange and Allstate County Mutual v. Rodriguez.
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.”
Rodriguez’s Allstate automobile 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 uninsured or underinsured owner’s liability must “arise out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the uninsured motor vehicle.”
Rodriguez filed suit against Woodling and Allstate on June 2, 2008, asserting a negligence claim against Woodling and a claim against Allstate for UIM coverage. Rodriguez amended his petition on September 16, 2008, adding Farmers as a defendant and seeking declarations that the exclusion from liability coverage in the Farmers policy did not apply or, alternatively, that Rodriguez’s damages arose from the use of a trailer covered by the Allstate policy.
Allstate argues 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 contends 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. We are not persuaded by these arguments.
The Allstate policy specifies that liability of the owner of an uninsured or underinsured vehicle “must arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of the uninsured motor vehicle.” The term “use” is not defined in the policy. Allstate urges 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.
Automobile insurers in Texas are required to provide UIM coverage in all policies. The quoted language from the Allstate policy mirrors statutory requirements found in Texas Insurance Code § 1952.101(a). The purpose of UIM coverage is to protect conscientious drivers from financial loss caused by irresponsible parties, and courts liberally construe the UIM statutes. 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 have not cited, and research has not revealed, any Texas cases construing UIM policies that have held the term “use” without a “loading and unloading” clause excludes coverage for loading and unloading.
Thus, Rodriguez was able to continue his lawsuit.