Fla. Court: Insurer Must Cover Injuries in Modified Golf-Cart Crash

Auto coverage extends to some speed-modified golf carts because the state considers them to be motor vehicles that require insurance if they go over 20 mph, according to Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeals.

In a decision handed down this month in the case of Angelotta v. Security National, the court reversed a trial court ruling that auto coverage on a golf cart was nullified because it wasn’t made to be driven on public roads.

The appeals court, however, found that the golf cart was modified in a way that classified it as a low-speed vehicle that required Florida auto insurance and registration and, in turn, was granted the same protections under an auto policy as other motor vehicles.

Crash Occurred in Florida Retirement Community

The case stems from a 2008 crash, when Ralph Snyder was operating a golf cart on public roads and crashed into John Angelotta within retirement community The Villages, which is located in Central Florida.

The golf cart was modified in a way that allowed it to drive above 20 mph.

At the time, Snyder was covered by an auto policy from Security National, which refused “to defend or indemnify” him on the basis that the modified golf cart was not “designed principally for use on paved public streets and highways,” according to the recent ruling’s summary of the trial court’s decision.

Angelotta sued Snyder to reclaim injury expenses of more than $70,500. The appeals court ruled that Security National’s policy covered Snyder because the modified golf cart he was driving was considered a motor vehicle because it could exceed a speed of 20 mph.

Coverage Required for Low-Speed Vehicles, Not for Golf Carts

Much of the appeals court’s decision rested on the definition of a “golf cart” compared with a “low-speed vehicle.”

Golf carts, by the definition in Florida statutes, cannot be “capable of exceeding speeds of 20 miles per hour.”

Low-speed vehicles, on the other hand, are defined as “any four-wheeled electric vehicle” and “neighborhood electric vehicles” that go between the speeds of 20 mph and 25 mph.

Under those definitions, Snyder’s vehicle “fell squarely within Florida’s statutory definition of low-speed vehicle,” the appeals court said in its ruling.

In its ruling against the car insurer, the appeals court said that state law requires low-speed vehicles to have license plates and be registered and insured, as opposed to golf carts that “are generally exempt” from such requirements.

Florida’s definition of low-speed vehicles also aligns with the federal definition from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The court provided both the federal definition and a note from the NHTSA further defining “speed-modified” golf carts as motor vehicles.

“Much of the on-road use [of speed-modified golf carts] is not incidental to the playing of golf,” according to the NHTSA. “Instead, many trips are made for purposes unrelated to golf, such as shopping or visiting friends.”

Some Floridians Slowing Down Low-Speed Vehicles to Save on Insurance 

Lynne McChristian, Insurance Information Institute’s Florida representative, said that many people in the state are actually slowing down their vehicles so that they won’t get caught in a coverage gray area and have to pay more on auto insurance.

She says the current trend for the Sunshine State is many drivers modifying their low-speed vehicles to become golf carts.

Why? Golf carts can be listed under homeowners policies for much lower insurance costs compared with the cost of an auto policy for a low-speed vehicle.

“People are getting the low-speed vehicles to go even slower because they will be able to save money on insurance,” McChristian told Online Auto Insurance News (OAIN).

She said that the trend would likely mean “fewer low-speed vehicles on the road.”

About Charles Nguyen
Charles Nguyen is an enterprising journalist who reported for Patch.com and the Desert Dispatch and was the editor in chief of the Guardian (the twice-weekly newspaper at the University of California, San Diego) before coming to Online Auto Insurance News.

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