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Does An Underinsured Motorist Policy Also Cover Tractors?

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Attorney Tom MetierThat is the question the Court of Appeals of Colorado examined in January in Smith v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, (2017 COA 6). Neill Smith was seriously injured when he was skewered by hay spears on a tractor driven by Robert Bunker. The district court dismissed the complaint Smith and his wife filed against State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (State Farm) determining that the tractor was not a covered motor vehicle under their State Farm insurance policy.

Mr. Bunker was driving a tractor when he crashed into Smith’s truck. The hay spears attached to the tractor pierced the truck and impaled Smith, leaving him seriously injured. Smith settled his claim against Bunker for Bunker’s liability policy limits. This amount did not fully compensate Smith for his injuries. Smith filed a claim under his underinsured motorist coverage—a policy he had with State Farm. State Farm denied the claim saying a tractor was not kind of vehicle covered.

Smith then sued State Farm for claims for breach of contract, bad faith breach of an insurance contract, and improper denial of an insurance claim. State Farm moved to determine as a matter of law that the tractor is not a motor vehicle under the policy’s UIM coverage. The court granted the motion and then dismissed the complaint. Smith appealed.

The Court of Appeals examined the insurance policy as the contract that it is, and stated the language would be construed plainly. In the contract, neither the UIM coverage nor the definitions section define the term “motor vehicle.” So, on its face, the UIM coverage provision neither includes nor excludes the tractor from coverage. There is a discussion on whether a tractor is defined as a motor vehicle, so the Court consults a dictionary and the tractor’s own manual. Because the policy does not exclude the tractor as a vehicle, and any ambiguity is construed in favor of coverage, the Court reverses and concludes the tractor is covered under the UIM policy. The case was remanded to the district court for further proceedings.

The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado.

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