Is a Scooter a Vehicle? Appeals Court says ‘Yes’ and State Farm Must Pay UM Claim

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State Farm must pay an uninsured motorist claim for injuries caused by an electric motor scooter even though the scooter didn’t match the definition of “motor vehicle” in Florida statutes, a panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday.

The panel reversed a US District Court decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the insurer. It rejected State Farm’s argument that it offered uninsured motorist coverage only for accidents caused by motor vehicles that conform to definitions in the state Financial Responsibility Law or uninsured motorist statute.

“Certainly, Florida courts may incorporate statutory limitations and requirements into an insurance contract to determine a parties’ contractual rights, but the FRL and UM statute prescribe only the minimum requirements,” the opinion says. “Because State Farm has not defined the term ‘uninsured motor vehicle’ in a way that fails to comply with the FRL or UM statute, we see no reason to redefine a policy term by incorporating a statutory definition.”

Injured Passenger Can ‘Stack’ Auto, UIM Policies, NC Appeals Court Says
In another underinsured motorist question, the North Carolina Court of Appeals this week found that an injured claimant can “stack” coverage limits from two different policies to show that a vehicle was underinsured and that the claimant is entitled to a larger payout.
The court upheld a Wake County Superior Court judge, who had decided against North Carolina Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co.
“Based solely upon stare decisis, we hold the trial court did not err in granting defendants’ motion for summary judgment,” Appeals Court Judge Jeffrey Carpenter wrote in the April 4 unpublished opinion.
The complex case began in 2020. Kyrie Mebane was one of several people injured in a two-car collision in Rockingham County. Terell Bellamy was the driver of the vehicle found to be at fault, the car that Kyrie Mebane was in. Bellamy’s car was covered by a Farm Bureau personal auto policy, with limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident.
Farm Bureau offered the per-accident limit, split between six injured passengers. That left Kyrie with just $5,000.
Kyrie was living with his mom at the time, and Alisha Mebane’s auto policy, also written by Farm Bureau, provided underinsured motorist coverage of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident. The insurer offered to pay Kyrie $45,000 – the limit of his mother’s UIM policy minus the $5,000 from Bellamy’s liability coverage.
Farm Bureau argued that Bellamy’s vehicle was not underinsured, and Bellamy’s UIM coverage was the same limit as Bellamy’s auto liability coverage, so Kyrie was not entitled to Bellamy’s UIM coverage, only Kyrie’s mom’s underinsured coverage. Kyrie Mebane’s attorneys argued that Kyrie was owed $95,000 –$45,000 that Farm Bureau offered from Kyrie’s mom’s UIM policy plus the $50,000 per-person limit from Bellamy’s UIM coverage.
The correct path to determine underinsured status, Kyrie’s lawyers said, is to compare Bellamy’s liability coverage to the sum of Bellamy’s UIM coverage and Alisha Mebane’s UIM coverage. With that “stacked” comparison, Bellamy’s vehicle was considered underinsured. The trial court judge agreed and Farm Bureau appealed.
The appeals court noted that North Carolina’s Financial Responsibility Act stipulates that the vehicle involved in the accident is underinsured if the car’s total liability coverage is less than the vehicle’s total UIM coverage.
“Stated differently, even if a vehicle’s liability coverage is greater than or equal to its UIM coverage, a vehicle is deemed underinsured if multiple people are injured in an accident, and one of those people receives a liability payment that is less than the vehicle’s UIM coverage,” the appeals judge explained.
Things were complicated by the fact that the law also allows an exception for multiple claimants.
“The exception’s applicability is limited to ‘when the amount paid to an individual claimant is less than the claimant’s limits of UIM coverage after liability payments to multiple claimants,’” the opinion noted, quoting from a previous court decision.
The appeals court’s 2018 decision in Nationwide Affinity Insurance vs. Le Bei set the controlling precedent here, the judges said.
“This court, notwithstanding the apparent plain language of the statute, ‘agreed with [the defendants’] framing of the issue and concluded the multiple claimant exception d[id] not apply” because “[t]he General Assembly added the multiple claimant exception … in an effort to further protect innocent victims of financially irresponsible motorists.”
Because the court had allowed stacking in Le Bei, “the trial court did not err in allowing defendants to stack defendant Alisha’s UIM coverage on top of Bellamy’s UIM coverage to determine whether Bellamy’s vehicle was underinsured,” the appeals court wrote.

Anna Bevilacqua Sprangler was driving a 2015 Nissan Altima insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. on US Highway 1 in Brevard County on July 11, 2019 when she collided with a Razor Pocket Mod scooter that turned left in front of her. The driver of the scooter, Edward Allen Leveque, was killed by the accident. Sprangler suffered injuries to her back, neck and left knee.

Sprangler filed a claim with State Farm seeking the uninsured motorist policy limit of $100,000 for her injuries. State Farm denied the claim and filed a lawsuit with the US District Court for the Middle District of Florida seeking a declaratory judgment that there was no coverage under the policy because the scooter was not a motor vehicle.

District Court Judge Paul Byron granted a motion for summary judgment filed by State Farm because the scooter was not designed to be driven on public roads, meaning it could not be an “uninsured motor vehicle” as defined in Florida statutes. Sprangler appealed.

The 11th Circuit panel ruled that the statutory definition was irrelevant. The state uninsured motorist statute defines the term “motor vehicle” to ensure a minimum level of coverage is offered, but nothing prevents insurers from providing more coverage than required, the opinion says. The policy that State Farm sold to Sprangler offered uninsured motorist benefits for damage or injuries caused by “land motor vehicles,” but did not define the term.

The panel said the Razor Pocket Mod has a 250-watt electric motor powered by two 12-volt batteries. It was manufactured without a taillight, brake lights or turn signals and had no vehicle identification number of license plate.

The appellate says the plain meaning of the term “land motor vehicle” includes electric scooters such as the Razor Pocket Mod. It is powered by an engine and moves over land. The State Farm policy, moreover, expressly includes coverage for vehicles that are designed to be used primarily off public roads.

State Farm argued that the court should use the definition of motor vehicle included in the Financial Responsibility Law, but the appellate panel said that statutory definition encompasses only motor vehicles that are designed to be used on public roads. The State Farm policy used the word “land” in front of motor vehicle, expanding the scope of the term to include off-road vehicles.

“Because State Farm has not defined the term ‘uninsured motor vehicle’ in a way that fails to comply with the FRL or UM statute, we see no reason to redefine a policy term by incorporating a statutory definition,” the opinion says.

The panel reversed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of State Farm.

Top photo: Illustration of the type of scooters widely seen in cities around the world.


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