Recently, a state court issued an opinion in a Virginia insurance dispute stemming from a plaintiff’s request for damages through his uninsured motorist coverage. According to the court’s opinion, a special needs child was transported on the school bus while strapped and secured in his seat with a harness. The harness was designed to aid in the supervision of children with disabilities. While he was restrained in his seat, he witnessed two classmates kick, slap, choke, and spray chemicals onto another student. Further, the classmates struck the plaintiff numerous times while he was restrained. Following this event, the plaintiff’s family filed a claim with their automobile insurance policy, under the underinsured/uninsured motorist provision.
The Virginia insurance company argued that its coverage did not apply to the plaintiff’s situation because it did not arise from the common use of the school bus. It further contended that the injuries resulted from specific “implements,” such as the chemical spray, a flyswatter, and the hands and feet of the assailants. The plaintiff asserted that the assault took place when the vehicle was being used for its typical purpose of transporting children with disabilities. Additionally, the plaintiff argued that the harness made it easier for the assault to occur.
Virginia uninsured motorist clauses are standard provisions found in automobile insurance policies. These clauses provide drivers, passengers, and family members with a means to recover damages if they are involved in an accident with an at-fault uninsured or uninsured driver. Virginia insurance companies will often deny coverage by claiming that the injuries did not result from the “ownership, maintenance, or use,” of the vehicle. Courts have held that the vehicle’s use does not need to be “the direct, proximate cause of the injury,” however, there must be a causal connection between the injuries and the use of the vehicle as a vehicle.