Car Dog Bite Fails to Trigger SUM Coverage

In Matter of Allstate Insurance Co. v. Reyes, the Appellate Division, Second Department addressed the “ownership, maintenance or use” requirement necessary to trigger supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist (SUM) coverage in connection with a car-related injury.

Plaintiff was injured while passing a vehicle when a rottweiler dog “extended its head from inside the vehicle and bit her right breast.”

Bad dog.

Plaintiff sued the owner of the car, and settled that case with the owner’s insurance company.  She then sought to recover under the SUM endorsement contained in her Allstate policy. Allstate denied coverage on the ground that the incident did not arise “out of the ownership, maintenance or use of an underinsured vehicle.”

The trial court denied Allstate’s petition to permanently stay arbitration, since (in its view) the incident did indeed arise “out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an underinsured vehicle.” The appellate court disagreed.

Initially it cited the legal standard:

Underinsured endorsements, such as the one at issue in this case, provide coverage only when the injuries are the result of an accident arising out of such [underinsured’s] motor vehicle’s ownership, maintenance or use.  Use of an automobile encompasses more than simply driving it, and includes all necessary incidental activities such as entering and leaving its confines. To satisfy the requirement that it arose out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, the accident must have arisen out of the inherent nature of the automobile and, as such, inter alia, the automobile must not merely contribute to the condition which produces the injury, but must, itself, produce the injury. [T]he vehicle itself need not be the proximate cause of the injury, but negligence in the use of the vehicle must be shown, and that negligence must be a cause of the injury. To be a cause of the injury, the use of the motor vehicle must be closely related to the injury. (Emphasis added.)

Applying these principles, the court held:

Here, as a matter of law, Reyes’s injuries did not result from the inherent nature of Kazimer’s vehicle, nor did the vehicle itself produce the injuries. The injuries were caused by Kazimer’s dog, and the vehicle merely contributed to the condition which produced the injury, namely, the location or situs for the injury. Allstate established that a causal relationship between the car and the incident was lacking, and Reyes failed to rebut that showing.  (Emphasis added.)

Therefore, since coverage was lacking, the trial court should have granted the petition to stay arbitration.

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