What Is A Motor Vehicle

Arlington insurance attorneys will be called on by potential clients to discuss how an insurance policy is interpreted. Especially so when a claim is denied.
As it relates to the use of the term “motor vehicle” in an insurance policy, the 1985, Fort Worth Court of Appeals case, Western Insurance Companies v. Andrus is good to look at for guidance. Here is some background information.
Here, Western Insurance is appealing from a judgment in favor of Andrus and complains of the trial court failure to grant it’s motion for judgment non obstante.
The facts are not in dispute. Andrus was insured under Western Casualty and Surety Company’s policy number TH 42 65 60, issued on August 7, 1982. The policy states, in part:
COVERAGE B–UNSCHEDULED PERSONAL PROPERTY owned, worn or used by the Insured, including members of his family of the same household and, at the option of the Insured, property of others (except roomers or tenants) while on the premises of the described dwelling.
Window or wall air-conditioning units shall be considered personal property.
EXCLUSIONS–Coverage B does not cover:
a. Animals and birds; aircraft; motor vehicles, except power mowers, golf buggies and farm equipment not designed for use principally on public roads; trailers and semi-trailers, except such vehicles (other than house trailers) designed for use principally off public roads and except boat trailers while on the premises of the described dwelling; …

On April 9, 1983, two three-wheeled motor bikes were stolen from Andrus’s home, and on May 6, 1983, a third was stolen. The bikes, one Yamaha 125 and two Honda 70s, were designed and used as off-the-road recreational vehicles by Andrus’s three oldest sons, ages eight, nine and eleven. The motor bikes were self-propelled and did not operate on stationary rails or tracks. Andrus filed a claim under the policy, which was denied by Western on July 12, 1983. Andrus then filed this suit for recovery.
The plain language of an insurance policy will be given effect when the parties’ intent may be discerned from that language. But when the language of an insurance contract is ambiguous, that is, is subject to two or more reasonable interpretations, then that construction which affords coverage will be the one adopted.
The term “motor vehicle” is not defined in the policy. Terms used in an insurance contract are given their ordinary and generally accepted meaning unless the policy shows the words were meant in a technical or different sense. No one has suggested here that the policy shows the words were meant in a technical or different sense.
There are two different common definitions of the term “motor vehicle” which have been recognized by the courts. One is the broad definition that a “motor vehicle” is a generic term for all classes of self-propelled vehicles not operating on stationary rails or tracks. The other common definition of “motor vehicle” is a more narrow one which defines “motor vehicle” as a self-propelled vehicle designed for, intended to be used for, or actually used to transport persons and property over roads or highways.
Webster’s Third New International Dictionary synthesizes the two definitions by defining “motor vehicle” as “an automotive vehicle not operated on rails, esp.: one with rubber tires for use on highways.”
An examination of these authorities shows that the term “motor vehicle” has more than one common meaning which, when applied to the vehicles here, would cause them to be either insured or uninsured, depending upon which definition is adopted. This court concluded that the term has more than one reasonable interpretation. Since the term has more than one reasonable interpretation, it is ambiguous. The court therefore adopted the construction which affords coverage and find that self-propelled vehicles which are designed for use and are used off the public roads and highways are not excluded as “motor vehicles” under this policy.

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