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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



February 25
06:40 2021

Parsing “pedestrian”

Todd McLaughlin was riding his bicycle on a Seattle street when a motorist opened the door of a parked vehicle and struck him. He fell, suffered injuries, and sought insurance coverage for losses including his medical expenses.

McLaughlin formerly lived in California and bought his automobile policy there. That policy, issued by Travelers Commercial Insurance Company, included medical payments, or MedPay coverage, which is similar to the personal injury protection (PIP) coverage that is required under Washington law.

The salient question in this case was the meaning of the undefined term “pedestrian” in McLaughlin’s policy. Under the terms of the policy, he was covered for medical payments for his bicycle/car accident if he qualified as a “pedestrian.” Accordingly, the question for the court was whether the undefined term “pedestrian” in McLaughlin’s policy included cyclists.

On this question the court ruled that the answer was no, reasoning that the plain, ordinary meaning of “pedestrian” excludes cyclists. Thus the court granted Travelers’ motion for partial summary judgment and denied McLaughlin’s motion. The court of appeals affirmed. Alleging breach of contract, McLaughlin appealed the case to the state supreme court.

On appeal, the supreme court found that applying Washington law yielded coverage for McLaughlin’s injuries. His policy provided coverage of $5,000 for an insured, which it defined as:

1. You or any “resident relative”:

a. While “occupying”; or

b. As a pedestrian when struck by;

a motor vehicle designed for use mainly on public roads or a trailer of any type.

The policy did not define “pedestrian,” but the court noted that the state legislature defined “pedestrian” for purposes of casualty insurance in Washington as follows: “‘Pedestrian’ means a natural person not occupying a motor vehicle as defined in [a state statute] as ‘every vehicle which is self-propelled.’”

Applying this broader definition of “pedestrian,” the supreme court reversed the decision of the appellate court and remanded the case for further proceedings.

McLaughlin v. Travelers Commercial Insurance Company—Supreme Court of Washington—December 10, 2020—No. 97652-0.

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