John M. Kirby April 4, 2014

In Integon Insurance v. Helping Hands Specialized Transport the Court of Appeals (on 5/6/2014), the court held that an automobile liability policy covered a claim arising when the claimant fell (or slid) in a wheelchair while being lifted up stairs, after being removed from the vehicle insured under the policy.

In this case, the insured (Helping Hands Specialized Transport) was transporting an elderly person to a home where she would receive hospice care. The claimant could not ambulate, and she used a wheelchair (or similar device). When she arrived at the home in the insured's van, she was lowered to ground level with a lift. She was then wheeled to the steps of the home. She was then transferred to another wheelchair (that could be pulled up steps). During the process of being raised up the steps, she sustained a gash to her leg when she slid in her chair. She died two days later.

The claimant made a claim against the insured, who had transported her to the home and whose employee was pulling the wheelchair at the time of the injury. A claim was made against the auto insurer for the company that had transported the claimant. The insurer (Integon) filed a declaratory judgment action to determine that it did not provide coverage. The claimant argued that the injuries arose from the use of an automobile. The lower court found in favor of coverage.

The Court of Appeals noted that the policy covers liability of the insured that is "caused by an accident and resulting from the ownership, maintenance or use of a covered vehicle." The court further noted that the Court of Appeals had been "liberal in its application of the principle that a motor vehicle liability insurance policy will provide coverage if an injury is caused by an activity that is necessarily or ordinarily associated with the use of the insured vehicle."

The court concluded, "In the present case, the insured vehicle was intended for use, on the date of the occurrence of Ms. Smith's injury, to transport her from the hospital to her residence for palliative care. Because she was unable to ambulate, application of the logic contained in [prior case law] leads to the inference that the use of the insured van included moving Ms. Smith into her residence as a part of the transport service."