The purpose of uninsured motorist coverage – which most of us blindly have because our state requires it – is for protection if we get hit by a driver with no insurance or not enough insurance to provide compensation for our injuries. Most uninsured motorist policies compensate the victim for any amount, within the policy limits, that would have been recoverable from the at-fault driver as money damages resulting from a car collision.
What happens when your client is on a motorcycle that is not listed on your insurance policy? Does your uninsured motorist coverage kick in? This issue is usually framed by breaking down the language of the uninsured motorist agreement that considers a motorcycle an excluded vehicle. But the analysis does not end there. Some states – Maryland is a prime example that I will get to in a second – are willing to rewrite the terms of an insurance policy to meet public policy objectives. This is done either by judicial fiat or by the state’s uninsured motorist statutory scheme.
So outside of Maryland, Plaintiffs’ lawyer in these cases argue that the state uninsured motorist laws provide protection that extends not just to the vehicle but to the person. Accordingly, this argument goes, UM coverage is broadly construed to cover all motor vehicle accidents. The insurance companies, argue, on the other hand, that its insured should not be able to have their cake and eat it too by doing someone inherently unsafe while not paying for the coverage. There is merit to both arguments.
The debate on whether a motorcycle in Maryland is a “motor vehicle” is closed: there is uninsured motorist coverage for a motorcycle accident. While a bus or a cab is not included in the definition of a motor vehicle for the purposes of uninsured motorist coverage, a motorcycle meets the definition.
I think a lot of lawyers and insurance adjusters in Maryland are a little confused about this rather simple fact because there is no PIP coverage available from an insured’s auto policy in a motorcycle accident if the bike is not on a listed vehicle on the coverage. So, understandably on some level because PIP and UM tend to go hand-in-hand, the assumption is that there is no UM coverage because there is no PIP coverage.
What if there is a motorcycle exclusion in the insurance policy? I think the answer is still the same. Maryland’s uninsured motorist statute allows for just two exclusions from uninsured motorist coverage: the “owned-but-uninsured” exclusion and the “named driver” exclusion §§ 19-509(f). So Maryland has rewritten insurance policies sold in Maryland, negating any policy language that attempts to pull coverage.
Taking a quick look around the country, Rhode Island (a new case with an owned-but-uninsured issue as well) Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, and Florida seem to have law generally favorable to plaintiffs. The law in California and Colorado seemed to be less favorable. Ohio seems conflicted. (Don’t hold me to any of this; I was just doing drive-by research.)