NAII Supports N.H. Supreme Court Reversal of Uninsured Driver Ruling

January 13, 2003

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently reversed a lower court ruling that permitted compensation under uninsured motorist coverage to an employee who was injured by a co-worker while both were on the job.

“The Supreme Court’s decision in Trombley v. Liberty Mutual Ins. Co. makes it very clear that insurers are free to limit or exclude coverage as long as their policy language is clear and unambiguous,” stated Gerald L. Zimmerman, senior counsel for the National Association of Independent Insurers. The high court also found that uninsured motorist coverage was not required by the Financial Responsibility Act.

The case involved Plaintiff Alfred Trombley, who was injured in 1998 while working for a New Hampshire construction company. He was operating an integrated tool carrier (IT), loading I-beams onto a truck on a privately owned road. His legs were crushed when a co-worker knocked an I-beam out of place, which fell on Trombley.

He filed an uninsured motorist claim against his employer stating that his injuries were caused by the negligent operation of the IT by his co-worker, an uninsured motorist. The employer’s insurer denied the submission for benefits, alleging coverage was barred by policy language precluding coverage for vehicles “designed for use mainly off public roads while not on public roads.”

The trial court found that the IT was specifically designed to be used both on and off public roadways and did not fall within the scope of the exclusionary policy language. The court also held the exclusionary language of the policy to be adverse to the state’s Financial Responsibility Act. Based on these findings, the trial court granted plaintiff’s request for uninsured motorist benefits.

“However, based on case law, the Supreme Court found that insurers are free to limit or exclude coverage as long as policy language is clear and unambiguous,” said the NAII bulletin. “The high court determined that the IT was indeed primarily designed for use off public roads and therefore subject to the exclusionary policy language.”

“The Supreme Court also held that the exclusionary language did not breach the Financial Responsibility Act because both the plaintiff and defendant worked for the same company at the time of the injury and eligible for benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act.”

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