Eleventh Circuit Reverses Lower Court Decision Involving the Definition of a “Land Motor Vehicle

In a recent case, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in an appeal involving a dispute regarding the definition of a land motor vehicle in an insurance policy. The plaintiff, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm), sued the defendant, an individual with a car insurance policy with State Farm after the defendant filed a claim when she was struck by an uninsured driver of an electric motorized scooter. State Farm denied the defendant’s claim and then sued, seeking a declaratory judgment that the Policy provided no coverage. Both parties moved for summary judgment. At trial, the district court denied the defendant’s motion and granted summary judgment in part to State Farm. The plaintiff then filed a timely appeal.

The incident that triggered this case occurred on a Florida highway when the defendant’s insured Nissan Altima was struck by a driver operating a Razor Pocket Mod scooter (the Scooter). The Scooter had a top speed of 15 mph with a total battery life of 40 minutes of continuous ride time. The Scooter was not manufactured with a taillight, brake lights, turn signals, or exterior mirrors, and no such equipment had been added. The defendant suffered serious injuries to her neck, back, and knee, with surgery expected as a result of the crash. The Nissan Altima sustained a cracked headlight and fog light, a crushed front bumper and fender, and a cracked passenger side mirror.
Following the crash, the defendant submitted a claim to State Farm for UM coverage in the amount of $100,000. State Farm denied the claim, stating that the Scooter was not an “uninsured motor vehicle” under the policy. The State Farm insurance policy stated that it would “pay compensatory damages for bodily injury an insured is legally entitled to recover from the owner or driver of an uninsured motor vehicle.

After the district court granted State Farm partial summary judgment, the defendant filed an appeal contending that the State Farm policy defines “uninsured motor vehicle” as a “land motor vehicle” and that the plain and ordinary meaning of the term “land motor vehicle” dictates the scope of the State Farm policy. Under that definition of “land motor vehicle,” the defendant argues that the scooter is a covered uninsured motor vehicle. After careful consideration, the Eleventh Circuit agreed with the defendant, reversing the district court’s grant of summary judgment to State Farm. The opinion concluded that the State Farm policy defined “uninsured motor vehicle” more broadly than Florida insurance law required. As an insurer is allowed to provide more uninsured motor vehicle coverage than the law requires, the court rejected State Farm’s narrow definition of uninsured motor vehicle.

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