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Is a Golf Cart a Vehicle for Statutory Purposes in an Uninsured Motorist Case?

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In Progressive Northern Insurance Company v. Pippin, No. 17-6182, (10th Cir. March 28, 2018), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit undertook the question arising out of an odd claim by the insured against his insurance company.

In 2012, Greg Pippin (“Pippin”) purchased a Yamaha golf cart. He also purchased an insurance policy (“the Policy”) from Progressive Northern Insurance Company (“Progressive”) for the golf cart, which included Uninsured Motorist (“UM”) coverage up to $500,000. Unlike normal UM policies, the golf cart policy excluded UM coverage for injuries sustained while using any motor vehicle that is owned by or available for Pippin’s regular use.

In 2014, Pippin was involved in an accident while he was driving a 2013 Infiniti. The Infiniti was owned by Pippin Investments, LLC and leased to Pippin Brothers, Inc., Pippin’s business. The Infiniti was insured under a business auto policy. The business policy on the Infiniti did not include UM coverage.

Months later, Pippin submitted a claim to Progressive for UM coverage under the golf cart policy for the accident involving the Infiniti. Progressive filed a motion declaring that the medical payments and UM coverage provisions in the Policy excluded coverage for the 2014 auto accident. It also sought a declaration that Oklahoma law did not compel it to provide UM coverage for the accident. Pippin counterclaimed, seeking reformation of the policy and a declaration that the Policy’s UM coverage applied. Progressive then filed a motion for summary judgment.

On July 19, 2017, the district court granted summary judgment to Progressive. It concluded that the Policy did not provide coverage for the 2014 accident because the medical payments provision only covered injuries sustained while operating the golf cart and the UM coverage excluded injuries sustained while occupying a motor vehicle available for the insured’s regular use. The court also held that because a golf cart was not a “motor vehicle” as defined by statute, the law did not prevent the exclusion from being written into the policy. Pippin appealed.

Pippin made three arguments on appeal: First, Progressive’s UM policy on the golf cart provided statutorily deficient coverage under Oklahoma’s UM statute and case law, second, that the Policy is contrary to Oklahoma public policy, and the Policy should be reformed to provide UM coverage based on theories of constructive fraud and estoppel.

Under Oklahoma law, a motor vehicle is defined as a vehicle designed for use principally upon public roads or streets. As the district court found, a golf cart does not fit this definition as it is designed principally for use on a golf course rather than public roads. Therefore, the statutory requirements for coverage do not apply to this case. Because there is no statute that requires UM coverage be applied outside the context of motor vehicles, Progressive argues that it was free to write the golf cart policy as it saw fit. This Court agrees with the lower court.

Pippin argued that Progressive, through its agents, perpetrated a constructive fraud because the coverage was offered, described, and billed as ‘Uninsured Motorist Coverage,’” and uninsured motorist coverage has a particular meaning under Oklahoma law that would normally cover Pippin but did not here. He contends that Progressive mistakenly issued the Policy and should reform the Policy or, in the alternative, be estopped from denying coverage because it rescinded the Policy but did not refund him the premiums he paid. But Progressive did sell Pippin UM coverage — that coverage just excluded any motor vehicle that is owned by or available for his regular use. As UM coverage is not defined in the statute except when concerning motor vehicles, which a golf cart is not, Progressive was not required to offer Pippin certain coverage as part of the Policy, nor is it estopped from denying that coverage because it never rescinded the coverage. As Pippin has not pointed to any mistake on the part of Progressive in crafting the Policy, nor has Progressive rescinded the Policy, he is not owed a refund of his premiums. For the above reasons, the lower court’s rulings are affirmed.

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