Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Second Department Declares Police Car Is An "Automobile"

Matter of State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Fitzgerald:

The issue in this case was whether a police vehicle qualified as a “motor vehicle” in an uninsured motorist endorsement. Officer Fitzgerald was a passenger in a police car when he was injured in a two-car accident. The driver of the other car was underinsured. Fitzgerald sought to recover from his fellow officer’s insurance policy. State Farm, the insurer of that policy, contended the police vehicle was not a “motor vehicle” for purposes of the uninsured/underinsured motorist endorsement. The Supreme Court agreed with State Farm, finding that Officer Fitzgerald should be denied coverage as police vehicles were specifically excluded under the definition of “vehicle” in Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) section 388(2). In so holding, the Supreme Court relied on State Farm v. Amato, where the Court of Appeals decided New York City had no statutory obligation to insure police vehicles.

The Second Department reversed, finding that the appropriate definition of “motor vehicle” is located in VTL section 125, as it is a more general provision that defines terms for the entire VTL. The police vehicle here fell within this definition as it is a “vehicle operated or driven upon a public highway which is propelled by any power other than muscular power” and as it is not specifically excluded. The Court distinguished the Amato case relied on by the Supreme Court by explaining that Amato dealt primarily with the City’s obligation to provide insurance coverage to police officers, while this deals with whether a police officer has coverage under a private insurance plan of the driver. As the legislature has continuously recognized the importance of innocent victims of accidents receiving just compensation, it would go against public policy to decide otherwise.

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