Florida Court: "Teenage Horseplay" Not Covered by Auto Insurance
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A Florida appeals court has affirmed a ruling saying that GEICO does not have to pay for a claim in which one of its insured drivers, Nicho Watson, helped cause an accident “involving four teenagers and some horseplay.”
The incident, which helps show why cheap car insurance for teenagers is so hard to find, happened when Watson’s girlfriend was driving Watson and two other teenagers home from a high school football game.
On the way home, Watson repeatedly reached over from the passenger seat to honk the horn and grab the steering wheel of the car while his girlfriend was driving. According to court documents, his girlfriend often ended up swerving while trying to bat his hands away. This happened “probably more than 10” times.
But on one instance when Watson grabbed the wheel, his girlfriend was unable to recover control of the car while she was driving on an exit ramp, and the car’s left side hit a concrete wall.
After the accident, the parents of the two other teenage passengers filed a negligence suit against Watson and his girlfriend.
While the girlfriend settled with the other passengers out of court, a claim was filed with Watson’s parents’ homeowners policy, which was issued by Sunshine State Insurance Company and provided personal liability coverage.
That policy contained an exclusion, though, that Sunshine State said freed them of the obligation to pay for the claim.
Sunshine State said that because its policy excluded damages “arising out of … the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of motor vehicles” operated by a person covered under the policy, it was not liable.
Instead, Sunshine State argued, Watson’s parents’ auto insurance provider, GEICO, should pay for the claim.
GEICO’s policy stated that it would coverage damage “arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of the owned auto or a non-owned auto” and that the insured driver must have permission to use any non-owned auto for the claim to be considered valid.
But a trial court ruled that this incident did not qualify for coverage under the auto policy and also did not qualify under the exception under the homeowners policy because Watson’s actions “did not constitute ‘use’ of the car,” leaving Sunshine State to pay for the damages.
Three of judges from the 4th District Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court’s decision, although one disagreed with the rationale.
Two of the judges wrote in their opinion that Sunshine State was liable because Watson’s actions did not constitute use of the auto. The other judge wrote in a special opinion that GEICO should not have to pay because Watson did not have permission to drive the car.