Insurance company prevails in appeal of golf cart accident dispute

Two families jointly appealing a ruling that favored an insurance company after one of their children was injured in a golf cart accident did not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that there was a mistake in the trial court’s decision.

While Hailey Bradford was driving her family’s golf cart in the parking lot of the Klipsch Music Center, her friend and passenger, Madison Hoppe, fell out of the cart and injured herself. At the time of the accident, Bradford’s stepfather, Christopher Knoll, had been supervising nearby.

After the accident, Madison’s father, William Hoppe, sued the Knolls and alleged they were responsible for Madison’s injuries under theories of negligence, negligent supervision, negligent entrustment and failure to obtain timely medical care and treatment, and seeking damages for her injuries.

The Knolls maintained homeowner’s insurance with Safeco Insurance Company of Indiana at the time of the accident, but Safeco filed a complaint against both families seeking a declaratory judgment that it had no duty to defend or indemnify the Knolls against the complaint filed by Hoppe. The insurer argued that an exclusion in the Knolls’ policy eliminated any liability coverage for claims of bodily injury arising out of the ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of golf cart.

The Hamilton Superior Court granted summary judgment to Safeco, prompting a joint appeal from the Knolls and Hoppe in the case of William Hoppe, as Father and Natural Guardian of Madison Hoppe, a Minor, and Shellie and Christopher Knoll v. Safeco Insurance Company of Indiana, 21A-PL-73.

 In affirming, a panel of the Indiana Court of Appeals disagreed with the appellants-defendants that the trial court erred when it granted summary judgment in favor of Safeco and determined that the policy did not provide coverage for Hoppe’s claims against the Knolls.

“At issue here is an exception to the exclusion in the Policy that provided coverage for bodily injury arising out of the use of a motorized land vehicle designed for recreational use off public roads, not subject to motor vehicle registration, licensing, or permits and owned by any insured, while on an insured location,” Judge James Kirsch wrote for the appellate court.

Noting that Indiana courts have not addressed the meaning of the policy language’s Exception b — “premises not owned by you which you have the right or privilege to use arising from the [residence premises]” — the appellate court proceeded to reject the defendants’ reliance on its cited caselaw from other states and jurisdictions. The COA concluded that the “misplaced” citations were inapplicable because the definition of “insured location” used in the Knolls’ policy did not include the same language.

Neither did the panel find Schelmety v. Yamaha, 193 So.3d 194 (La. Ct. App. 2016), instructive, noting that case dealt with whether a public roadway was an insured location under the policy, unlike the circumstances in the case at hand.

The panel further declined to find that the Klipsch parking lot was an insured location because it was a premises not owned by the Knolls, as argued by the defendants, and that they had the privilege of use arising out of their residence premises. It instead found that the defendants did not offer a reasonable interpretation of the definition of privilege.

“Simply living in close proximity to, or frequently using, an area does not create or bestow a privilege to use the area for one’s recreation,” Kirsch wrote. “… If we were to find that the location of the accident in this case, a parking lot for a local business a distance away from the residence premises, was an insured location, then that would mean that any business parking lot near the Knolls’ residence in which their golf cart was driven would be an insured location. Clearly, Safeco did not intend for the Policy to give the Knolls coverage for the golf cart except upon an insured location as set forth in the Policy.

“… Because we find that the motorized land vehicle exclusion of the Policy applies to the present circumstances, and Exception b does not apply, coverage under the liability section of the Policy does not apply to bodily injury arising from the use of the golf cart,” the COA concluded. “Since there is no liability coverage for the accident alleged in the underlying complaint, there is no coverage under the Policy for any entrustment, supervision, act, decision, or omission concerning the golf cart, and the trial court properly granted summary judgment to Safeco.”

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