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What happens when an uninsured driver hits a motorcycle?

October 11, 2017 by Steven M. Gursten

An injured motorcyclist’s right to uninsured motorist benefits under a car insurance bodily injury policy depends on whether the ‘other owned vehicle’ exclusion applies

What happens when an uninsured driver hits a motorcycle

Can an injured motorcyclist collect “uninsured motorist” benefits under a car insurance policy after being struck by an uninsured driver?

The answer will depend on the auto insurance policy’s “uninsured motorist” provision.

Sometimes, injured motorcyclists hit by cars get lucky by how the “uninsured motorist” provision is defined in the insurance policy. But insurance companies have gotten wiser on how to write insurance policies to preclude coverage, and now “other owned vehicle” exclusion that appears in nearly all uninsured motorist (UM) policies will often rule out the possibility of coverage.

Unfortunately, I should know. As a motorcycle accident attorney in Michigan, I’ve seen far too many times how this bad faith game of “gotcha” works. It can unfairly add additional harm for motorcyclists who are already seriously injured.

It’s also why I recommend that all motorcyclists check the terms of their car insurance policy’s UM coverage and add uninsured protection to their motorcycle policy. This will still protect an injured motorcyclist if his or her auto insurer has an “other owned vehicle” exclusion in the policy that would deny coverage.

What is the “other owned vehicle” exclusion and how will car insurance work when a motorcyclist is hit by a car?

Here’s the typical scenario:

While riding a motorcycle, a motorcyclist is struck in the rear by an uninsured driver. Although the motorcycle rider has the legally required insurance, his or her motorcycle policy doesn’t include “uninsured motorist” coverage. However, the motorcyclist does have UM coverage through his or her car insurance policy, so he or she files a claim for personal injury from the crash.

Then the auto insurer denies the injury claim, citing an exclusion in the policy.

What’s the exclusion and is it legal for a car insurance company to rely on it to avoid paying uninsured motorist benefits?

The exclusion is the “other owned vehicle” exclusion which provides, generally, that there will be no coverage for personal injury suffered while occupying a vehicle (including a motorcycle) “other than the vehicle specifically named in the policy,” i.e., no coverage for injuries suffered on a motorcycle if the vehicle identified in the policy is a car or truck.

And, yes — unfortunately, for many seriously injured and completely unsuspecting motorcycle accident victims — this exclusion is completely legal.

It was approved by the Michigan Supreme Court in its 1991 decision in Bianchi v. Auto Club of Michigan (437 Mich. 65 (1991)).

In Bianchi, a unanimous Supreme Court held that the “other owned vehicle” exclusion in a wife’s car insurance policy precluded her husband from collecting “uninsured motorist” benefits when he was injured by an uninsured driver while riding his wife’s motorcycle.

Similarly, in its 2003 published opinion in Heath v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (255 Mich. App. 217) (#235030), the Michigan Court of Appeals held that a motorcyclist who was hit by an uninsured motorist was disqualified from collecting “uninsured motorist” benefits as a result of the “other owned vehicle exclusion” in the “uninsured motorist” portion of the motorcyclist’s car insurance policy.

What kind of ‘other owned vehicle’ exclusions should motorcycle riders beware of?

In Bianchi, the policy’s “other owned vehicle” exclusion, which resulted in a denial of “uninsured motorist” benefits to the injured motorcycle rider, precluded coverage for “injuries sustained while occupying a motor vehicle other than that named in the policy …”

In particular, the exclusion stated:

“This coverage does not apply to bodily injury sustained by an insured person: while occupying a motor vehicle which is owned by you or a relative unless that motor vehicle is YOUR CAR …” i.e., “the vehicle described on the Declaration Certificate and identified by a specific Vehicle Reference Number …”

The “other owned vehicle exclusion” in Heath was similar in that it stated:

“Coverage was not available for bodily injury to an insured: while occupying a motor vehicle owned by or leased to you, your spouse or any relative if it is not insured for this coverage under this policy …”

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