ATVs Not Covered Under Auto Insurance Policies, Appellate Division Rules

October 2018 Powersport News Michael Booth, New Jersey Law Journal

A New Jersey appeals court ruled on Wednesday that all-terrain vehicles don’t fit the definition of passenger vehicles, at least for purposes of insurance coverage.

A two-judge Appellate Division panel reversed a trial judge and said Geico did not have to provide coverage to a teenager who was injured when the ATV on which she was riding overturned.

“Given that an ATV cannot be driven on public roads, except to cross a road in order to reach an ATV site, and given that children can drive ATVs, we conclude that no reasonable policyholder would believe that … coverage would extend to an ATV,” said Appellate Division Judges Carmen Alvarez and Susan Reisner in the unpublished decision Wednesday.

According to the decision, the accident occurred at a picnic on May 23, 2015, when the owner of an ATV, Scott Haemmerle, allowed a 14-year-old girl named Bailey Snyder to drive the ATV. While crossing a road, Snyder lost control of the ATV, and it overturned, injuring a passenger, another teenager named Hannah Starner.

Haemmerle had no insurance policy covering the ATV, so Snyder’s parents sought coverage from their own carrier, Geico.

Geico argued that it should not be required to provide coverage since the ATV did not meet the policy definition of a “passenger vehicle.” The trial judge disagreed, saying the ATV had four wheels and had the ability to carry passengers.

Geico appealed.

The Appellate Division panel said there was little precedent on which to rely. Alvarez and Reisner did, however, look to the state Supreme Court’s 1982 ruling in Wilno v. New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance.

In that case, the court said a carrier did not have to provide coverage to a person who was injured in a dune buggy accident.

A dune buggy, the court said, did not qualify as a registered passenger vehicle under the terms of the owner’s insurance policy.

Given the lack of any other relevant precedent, the appeals court judges said they felt bound by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Wilno.

The Snyder family attorney, Russell Macnow, pointed out that Wilno was a 4-3 decision and has not been frequently cited.

The appeals court judges said that did not matter.

“Those considerations do not relieve us from following the decision as binding precedent,” the panel said in the per curiam decision.

Meanwhile, litigation continues between the parties.

“It’s disappointing that the injured plaintiff won’t have the benefit of insurance coverage,” said Macnow, who heads a firm in Colts Neck.

Geico retained Mario Delano, who said the appeals court ruling was “spot on.”

“An ATV is absolutely not a vehicle covered by an insurance policy,” said Delano, of Asbury Park’s Campbell, Foley, Delano and Adams.

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