Pennsylvania Court Upholds Motorcyclist ‘On,’ ‘Off’ Exclusion

By | September 16, 2011

A Pennsylvania court has ruled that an exclusion in underinsured motorist coverage for injuries incurred while on a motorcycle applies to motorcyclists injured after being thrown off their bikes.

An underinsured motorist coverage from Allstate contained an exclusion for injuries sustained while on a motorcycle. The court was asked if the exclusion still applies when the driver is injured after being thrown “off” from the motorcycle he was operating after colliding with a car.

The motorcyclist’s lawyer argued that technically, the driver was not on his motorcycle when the injuries occurred, so the exclusion shouldn’t apply.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court in Allstate Fire and Casualty Insurance Company v. Hymes disagreed with that argument and sided with Allstate. In its Sept. 13 opinion, the court stated that “recovery for underinsured benefits is properly excluded under the pertinent policy provision” because the injuries, even though they may have taken place off the motorcycle, are still the direct result stemming from the motorcyclist operating the vehicle. The opinion affirmed the trial court’s ruling.

Injured After Being Thrown From Motorcycle

The case involves Jacob Hymes who, in April 2009, was operating his 2005 Harley Davidson motorcycle when he collided with a 2001 Chevrolet Malibu operated by Robert Meyer. Hymes suffered serious injuries after being thrown from the motorcycle and into the windshield and onto the ground some 20 feet away from the point of impact, according to the court documents. Meyer, the driver of Chevrolet Malibu, was subsequently determined to be at fault for the accident but his liability insurance proved to be insufficient to fully compensate Hymes for the injuries he sustained.

Hymes hadn’t elected to have underinsured motorist coverage from his primary insurer, GEICO. So he turned to his parents’ policy with Allstate. Allstate denied Hymes’ claim for underinsured motorist coverage, relying on the policy’s ‘household exclusion.’

The Allstate policy excluded underinsured motorist coverage to ‘anyone while in, or, getting into or out of or when struck by a motor vehicle owned or leased by you or a resident relative which is not insured for underinsured motorist coverage under this policy.’

Allstate sought a determination that the policy did not cover Hymes’ injuries in this case. The trial court agreed with Allstate and determined that the ‘clear, unambiguous language of the’household exclusion’ bars [Hymes’] claim.”

Avoiding ‘Absurd Construction’ of Policy

The Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the trial court’s ruling, stating, “As explained by the trial court, our review should not result in an absurd construction of the policy. Words of ‘common usage’ in an insurance policy are to be construed in their natural, plain, and ordinary sense.”

The Superior Court stated: “Although we have, on occasions, admired good lawyering on behalf of a client and zealous advocacy, we cannot conclude that there is any plausible argument that the injures complained of here are not the direct result of [the driver’s] operation of his motorcycle while ‘on’ it.”

The case is Allstate Fire And Casualty Insurance Company, Appellee v. Jacob Hymes, Rebecca Hymes, and William Hymes, Appellants, No. 1227 WDA 2010, September 13, in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.

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