In a recent car accident case, the Court of Appeals of Tennessee reviewed an order granting an insurance company’s motion for summary judgment against the plaintiff. In Shempert v. Cox (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 24, 2016), the plaintiff brought suit against his insurance company, seeking uninsured motor vehicle insurance coverage after being involved in a car accident with an uninsured motorist. The insurance company argued that the plaintiff was operating a vehicle that was not insured under his policy but was available for his regular use, and therefore he was not covered. After the trial court ruled against him, the plaintiff appealed the issue to the higher court.
In Shempert, the plaintiff was injured when his vehicle, owned by his employer, collided with a vehicle operated by an uninsured motorist, who died at the scene of the accident. While the insurance policy at issue provided for uninsured motorist coverage, it contained a “regular use” exclusion. Specifically, the policy excluded damages arising out of the use of any vehicle other than the insured car that is owned or made available for the regular use of the insured.
The insurance company argued that since the plaintiff was not operating his insured car at the time of the accident but was instead operating a vehicle that his employer allowed the plaintiff to regularly use, there was no coverage under the policy. On appeal, the plaintiff contended that the term “regular use” created ambiguity because its meaning altered throughout the policy.
The appeals court disagreed, noting that the phrase “regular use” appears seven times in the liability portion of the policy, making it unsurprising that the term refers to the insured’s fault in those instances. Conversely, the final two uses of the phrase, found in the uninsured motorist provision and regular use exclusion, are concerned with the circumstances in which damages occur. As a result, the court concluded that there was no ambiguity created by the exclusion in the policy.
The plaintiff also argued that the regular use exclusion violated public policy by undermining Tennessee’s uninsured motorist statutes. Tennessee law provides for uninsured motorist coverage in automobile insurance policies. However, courts have held that the statutes do not provide for broad coverage but for a limited and narrow purpose. In Shempert, the court observed that the plaintiff’s point had been argued and rejected in similar, previous cases, and it declined to reverse the law. Accordingly, the court held that the regular use exclusion did not contravene public policy and affirmed the lower court’s order.
If you have been injured in a car or motorcycle accident and are facing costly medical bills, you may find yourself battling with your own insurance company to cover these expenses. The Nashville litigation attorneys at Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard provide dedicated representation to clients with insurance and negligence claims involving car accidents, premises liability, medical malpractice, and more. To discuss your case with one of our experienced accident attorneys, contact Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard by phone at (615) 800-7096 or online.