Court Says Woman on Hood of Car Was Technically ‘Occupying’ It

An appeals court ruling handed down in an Ohio auto insurance case this week upholds what some might call an interesting interpretation of what it means to occupy a vehicle.

In the case, the court ruled that, under the terms of an insurance contract, a pedestrian who was hit by a car and thrown up onto the hood was technically occupying the vehicle when she was on the hood, a line of reasoning that State Farm called “ridiculous,” according to court documents.

But despite State Farm’s characterization of the argument, the court accepted it, ruling that the woman who was hit was entitled to compensation through the driver’s medical payments coverage after she had exhausted his liability coverage benefits.

The main reason that the court accepted the argument was that State Farm’s policy defined “occupying” a vehicle as being “in, on, entering, or alighting from” the vehicle, according to court documents.

The Case, in Detail

(The following is according to court documents)

In November 2010, Barbara Bennett was walking her dog in Garfield Heights, Ohio, when Robert Pastel hit her while driving his Ford Fusion. Pastel first struck Bennett’s left knee, but the force of the collision threw her onto the hood, where she was further injured.

Pastel was found to be responsible for the crash. Bennett’s total medical bills ended up being $41,500.

Bennett filed a claim against Pastel’s insurer, State Farm, which then paid Bennett the maximum amount payable under Pastel’s liability policy. But that wasn’t enough to cover all of her medical expenses. As a result, Bennett tried to collect more compensation through the medical payments section of Pastel’s policy.

Pastel’s $5,000 worth of medical payments coverage would typically cover his medical bills and the medical bills of other people riding in the car with him. But it turns out that the actual policy language says that it technically covers people “occupying” the vehicle. Bennett filed a claim on Pastel’s med-pay coverage, arguing that since she was thrown onto the hood and sustained injuries while on the hood, she was technically “occupying” the vehicle. State Farm’s policy defines “occupying” to mean “in, on, entering, or alighting from” the vehicle.

An Ohio District Court judge sided with State Farm in the case back in December 2012, saying that she wasn’t technically occupying the vehicle at the time of the crash.

But, ultimately, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Bennett, saying that she was “on” the vehicle and therefore “occupying” it, according to the policy language, and was entitled to Pastel’s med-pay coverage benefits.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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