Parsing a three-letter word
Paul Buchanan and Egbert Wilkinson were friends and co-workers. On August 18, 2015, Buchanan purchased a 1994 Ford F-350. Egbert asked Buchanan if he could “look at” the truck, and Buchanan agreed. According to Buchanan, Wilkinson and his wife, Barbara, were not going to test drive the truck but only wanted to look at it.
On September 30, 2015, Egbert and Barbara went to Buchanan’s house to look at the truck. Buchanan drove the truck forward approximately eight feet from where it was parked in his driveway so that the Wilkinsons could walk around the vehicle to inspect it. The truck, which was still in front of Buchanan’s garage in the driveway, was parked on an incline and facing the street. Buchanan turned the truck motor on, placed the gearshift in neutral, and set the emergency brake.
As Egbert and Buchanan stood outside the truck conversing with each other, Barbara sat in the driver’s seat of the truck. Barbara then exited the truck and spoke with Buchanan. As Buchanan and Barbara went to inspect the truck’s engine, Buchanan told Barbara to pull the truck’s hood latch and warned her to not pull the emergency brake. Barbara looked under the truck’s dashboard, pulled the emergency brake, and the truck “took off,” after which Buchanan saw her lying under the truck.
According to Buchanan, Barbara had been holding on to the “door jamb” when she fell, and the truck rolled over Barbara’s ankles as it traveled down the driveway. Buchanan ran after the truck, jumped inside, and stopped the truck. Barbara sustained multiple injuries, including an open fracture of her left ankle, a right shoulder avulsion fracture, fractures of the tibia and fibula, and a left knee effusion.
The Wilkinsons filed suit against Buchanan, asserting claims for negligence, damages, and loss of consortium. Buchanan filed a claim with his homeowners insurer, Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company (GFB). GFB filed a complaint for declaratory judgment to determine whether it was obligated to defend Buchanan in the Wilkinsons’ suit against him. Specifically, GFB sought declarations that (1) the policy did not provide coverage for bodily injuries caused by an intentional act; (2) the policy did not provide coverage for injuries that are reasonably expected or intended by the insured; (3) the policy did not provide coverage for Buchanan for losses arising out of any intentional or criminal act; (4) the policy excluded coverage for injuries arising out of or in connection with a business; and (5) the policy excluded coverage for injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of motor vehicles. The Wilkinsons counterclaimed, seeking a declaratory judgment that their claims raised in the separate civil action were covered under Buchanan’s homeowners policy.
GFB subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, and the trial court granted the motion. The court rejected GFB’s claim that the policy excluded coverage for injuries arising out of a business transaction because it found that Buchanan was not in the business of selling or repairing vehicles. The court found, however, that the truck was in “use” at the time of the incident because “[t]he truck was being used … to demonstrate its function and operability,” “and that such use resulted in [Barbara]’s injuries.” The Wilkinsons appealed.
On appeal, the Wilkinsons argued that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment because the incident that gave rise to Barbara’s injuries did not arise from the use of a motor vehicle.
Agreeing with the Wilkinsons, the appellate court cited case law: “Thus, while the term ‘use’ of a motor vehicle does extend beyond actual physical contact, it does not imply remoteness, and the term contemplates use of the motor vehicle as a vehicle at the time of the injury.”
Accordingly, the court said, the trial court erred in determining that the truck was in “use” at the time of the accident so as to exclude coverage for Barbara’s injuries. The trial court’s order granting summary judgment to GFB was reversed.
Wilkinson v. Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company—Court of Appeals of Georgia—September 20, 2019—A19A1447.