Mont. Supreme Court Rules in Dispute over Policy Language

The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that the family of a construction contractor who was backed over and dragged to death by a concrete truck is not entitled to have his medical bills and funeral costs paid under the medical payments policy that covered the truck.

In a decision handed down last week, the high court affirmed a district court ruling that Terry L. Richerson was not covered by the policy because he was not technically “occupying” the vehicle that fatally injured him on Nov. 2, 2005.

Richerson, the owner and foreman of a concrete finishing company, had just left an outhouse on a job site in Great Falls when he was backed over by a truck owned by another concrete subcontractor. Richerson was caught in the truck’s differential or driveshaft and dragged at least 5 feet and as far as 50 feet.

According to court documents, there had been no physical contact or connection between Richerson and the vehicle before the accident.

Richerson’s estate sought reimbursement under the medical payments portion of the automobile insurance coverage issued by Cincinnati Insurance to the company that owned the truck.

Cincinnati denied the claim on the grounds that the policy specified it would cover injury or funeral costs for anyone occupying the insured vehicle, which was defined as being “in, upon, getting in, on, out or off” it, according to court records.

Richerson’s estate argued in district court that because the contractor was entangled in and transported by the truck, he was “upon” it and therefore should be covered by the policy, while Cincinnati maintained that Richerson did not meet the definition of an insured party.

The lower court sided with the insurer, finding that Richerson did not occupy the truck as defined in the policy and that Cincinnati was not required to pay medical costs. The Supreme Court ruling affirms that decision.

In its appraisal of the case, the court looked at whether Richerson’s activities at the time of the incident “were so reasonably connected” to the truck that he could be legally construed as being an occupant.

The panel found the argument that Richerson was “upon” the vehicle would mean “that virtually any pedestrian injured in a vehicle accident would be deemed to be ‘occupying’” it.

Richerson “had no purpose or connection with the truck other than the incidental contact that led to his unfortunate injuries and death,” Justice James Rice wrote. “This was insufficient to trigger coverage under the definition of ‘occupying’ in the policy.”

About John Pirro
John Pirro is a licensed fire and casualty insurance agent specializing in various aspects of the auto insurance industry. He worked in the auto body repair industry before taking a reporting position at Online Auto Insurance News.

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