A recent opinion from the Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District, Amanda Zipfel v. Trexis One Ins. Corp., f/k/a Alfa Specialty Ins. Corp, affirmed a lower court ruling involving a matter where the plaintiff sought to recover under the uninsured motorist provisions of an automobile insurance policy.
Castle View Estates is a membership-owned RV Park near Table Rock Lake in southern Missouri. The RV Park is private property. Castle View Drive is a road that runs through the park and is maintained and owned by the Castle View Estates. Due to the fact that Castle View Drive is a private road, the property owners determine its speed limit and other usage rules. Additionally, any road signage is posted by Castle View Estates, rather than the state. In fact, a state-issued driver’s license is not required to operate a vehicle on Castle View Drive.
The plaintiff was visiting friends at Castle View Estates. While riding a bike in the RV Park, the plaintiff was struck by a golf cart and subsequently injured. According to court documents, the accident occurred “in the general area of the parking spaces adjacent to Castle View Drive.”
At the time of the accident, the plaintiff was insured under an automobile insurance policy issued by Alfa Specialty Insurance Corporation. The policy provided that the insurer “would pay compensatory damages an insured is legally entitled to recover for an insured’s bodily injury, caused by an accident, for which liability arose out of an owner or operator’s ownership, maintenance, or use of an uninsured motor vehicle.” However, the policy excluded from the definition of “uninsured motor vehicle” any vehicle or equipment “[d]esigned mainly for use off public roads while not on public roads.”
The plaintiff filed a claim under the uninsured motorist provisions of the insurer’s policy and the insurer denied the claim because the golf cart was designed to be driven, for the most part, off public roads and the accident occurred in a parking lot. In other words, the accident did not occur on a public road. Thus, the lower court held in favor of the insurance company finding: (a) Castle View Drive was not open for free and common use by the public and was not used by the public freely and commonly; (b) the golf cart was not on a public road at the time the plaintiff was injured and the accident did not arise out of the golf cart’s ownership, maintenance or use on a public road; and therefore (c) the plaintiff did not show liability of the operator of the golf cart arose out of use of an uninsured motor vehicle as defined in the policy.
The court reasoned that there was no evidence in the record that Castle View Drive or the adjacent parking lot were dedicated to, owned by, or maintained by the state or a political subdivision. Ultimately, in finding for the insurer, the court of appeals reasoned that there was “evidence that the road and parking lot were private property; that one end of the road was barred for a portion of the year; that the public does not drive through the RV Park as a shortcut to access a public road; that guests who enter the RV Park by Castle View Drive are to check in with the office; that no state-issued driver’s license is required to operate a vehicle on Castle View Drive;” and that postal, delivery, and emergency vehicles did not freely drive on Castle View Drive.
As you can see, the language in your insurance policy is of utmost importance in determining potential liability. If you are unsure of coverage in your own insurance policy, please do not hesitate to reach out to our team of diligent attorneys to point you in the right direction.
Article written by Associate Attorney Will Kernell | Gausnell, O’Keefe & Thomas, LLC