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Rhode Island Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Insurer in Dispute Regarding Uninsured Motorist Policy

Losing a loved one in a fatal accident is one of the most sudden and devastating experiences that can happen to you in your lifetime. At Bilodeau Capalbo, LLC, we have assisted many Rhode Island individuals with understanding their rights following the loss of a loved one. Our Rhode Island wrongful death lawyers understand that no amount of compensation will truly make you and your family whole again, but it can assist you with offsetting the financial pressure that results from the accident.

A Rhode Island appellate court recently issued an appellate opinion in a wrongful death action in which a motorcyclist tragically lost his life. The motorcyclist was traveling on the highway when a barrel fell from a passing truck and became lodged in his front tire. The rider was thrown from the motorcycle into the oncoming traffic lane, where he was hit by another vehicle. The rider died as a result of his injuries.

The rider had an insurance policy for the motorcycle that did not provide uninsured motorist (UM) coverage. He owned a separate policy, however, that did provide UM coverage, but it contained an exclusion stating that it would not provide UM coverage for injuries sustained by the insured while occupying or when struck by another vehicle owned by the insured that is not insured under the policy. Occupying was defined in the policy to include in or getting in, on, out of, or off.

The executrix of the rider’s estate brought a declaratory judgment action, seeking an order stating that the second policy provided UM coverage for the accident. The insurer moved for summary judgment, arguing that the exclusion applied because the defendant was occupying his owned-but-not-insured motorcycle at the time of the crash. The plaintiff opposed the motion for summary judgment on the basis that there were disputed questions of material fact regarding whether the first collision involving the barrel was the cause of the death or whether the second collision involving the impact from the passing car was the cause of the death. The lower court concluded that the defendant was occupying his motorcycle at the time of the death and granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff appealed.

On review, the appellate court relied on legal precedent in applying a strict interpretation of the term “occupying” as used in the policy. Based on this, the appellate court framed the issue as whether the defendant was in, upon, entering, or on, out, or off the motorcycle at the time of the fatal injury. The court then discussed the many different interpretations of this term that could apply to the unique facts of the rider’s injury. In doing so, it concluded that there was a factual dispute regarding whether the defendant was “getting off” his motorcycle when the barrel lodged in his front tire, or whether the fatal injury was entirely the result of the rider being struck by the passing car. Based on this, the appellate court reversed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment in the defendant’s favor and remanded the matter for further proceedings.

At Bilodeau Capalbo, our seasoned Rhode Island personal injury lawyers have counseled numerous victims regarding their legal rights following a devastating accident. We ensure that each client receives the compassionate, attentive, and diligent representation that they deserve throughout the entire legal process. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 401-300-4055 or contact us online.

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