Indiana Court of Appeals Finds That Scooter Operator Was Not Entitled to Underinsured Motorist Coverage

Michael R. Giordano

Progressive Southeastern Ins. Co. v. Chastain, 2020 WL 4743879 (Ind. Ct. App. 2020)

Chastain owned two scooters, one of which was registered with the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles (“BMV”).  Chastain removed the license plate from the registered scooter and placed it upon the back of the second scooter without registering the second scooter with the BMV.  While operating the second scooter, Chastain was involved in an accident with a vehicle driven by an underinsured motorist (“UIM”).  After the driver’s insurer tendered its limits, Chastain pursued UIM coverage under his automobile insurance policy.

The insurer denied Chastain’s claim by relying upon the following exclusion:

Coverage under this part III [UIM coverage] will not apply:

    1. To bodily injury sustained by any person while using or occupying: . . .

(b) a motor vehicle that is owned by or available for the regular use of you, a relative, or a rated resident.  This exclusion does not apply to a covered auto that is insured under this part III.

Chastain filed a complaint against the insurer seeking damages and declaratory judgment of coverage, while the insurer filed a counterclaim for declaratory judgment.

Progressive filed a motion for summary judgment based upon the exclusion. Specifically, the insurer argued that Chastain’s use of a scooter was using a “motor vehicle” that he owned but was not insured under the policy.  Chastain filed his own summary judgment and asserted that the scooter did not involve the use of a “motor vehicle” to be subject to the exclusion.  The Trial Court granted summary judgment to Chastain and denied the insurer’s summary judgment motion.

On appeal, the Court reversed.  The Court of Appeals rejected the Trial Court’s interpretation that the term “motor vehicle” was ambiguous to require the policy to be construed against the insurer.  The Court further found that while the policy did not define “motor vehicle,” a motor vehicle is generally defined as “[a] self-propelled wheeled conveyance, such as a car or truck, that does not run on rails.”  American Heritage Dictionary 1148 (4th Ed. 2006).  Because the scooter that Chastain was riding at the time of the accident had a vehicle identification number as well as a license plate that was not registered with the BMV, the scooter met the plain and ordinary meaning of a motor vehicle.  Furthermore, the Court cited to I.C. § 9-13-2-105(a) which defines “motor vehicle” to mean “a vehicle that is self-propelled. The term does not include a farm tractor, an implement of agriculture designed to be operated primarily on a farm field or on a farm premises, or an electric personal assisted mobility device.”  Consequently, under the Indiana legislature’s definition, a scooter also met the statute’s definition of a “motor vehicle.”

As a result, the Court found that the term “motor vehicle” was not ambiguous under the policy.  Because the scooter met the definition of a “motor vehicle” that was not covered under the policy, Chastain was not entitled to UIM coverage.

This case clearly involved a commonsense determination of what constitutes a “motor vehicle.”  Clearly, an electric scooter met the definitions provided by the Court as a “self-propelled wheeled conveyance.”  Most major Indiana cities have battery operated scooters where individuals stand and use, rather than ride.  There remains an unresolved question in Indiana as to whether those scooters fit within the definition of a “motor vehicle” for coverage to apply.