South Carolina courts have historically held that auto insurance covers injuries arising out of the ownership, maintenance, or use of an automobile if there is a causal connection between the vehicle and the injury the vehicle must be an "active accessory" to the injury.  A Federal Court in South Carolina recently applied a broad interpretation of the law in Margaret Cramer v. National Casualty Co. In doing so the court may have expanded what constitutes “use” of a vehicle for purposes of determining whether or not auto insurance will indemnify parties injured while not necessarily using a vehicle in the traditional sense of the word (driving).

South Carolina courts have had the task of determining whether or not a party is using an insured vehicle so as to trigger coverage many times.  These scenarios are normally unique, they generally involve severely injured parties, and they commonly do not involve an insured, or the at-fault party, literally driving a vehicle when a party is injured.  Examples of fact patterns the courts have faced include:

  1. passengers in a taxi cab attempting to rob the taxi and the taxi crashed into a parked vehicle;
  2. driver fatally wounded by a shotgun while sitting in a vehicle – the vehicle was running, but it was in park in the driver's driveway;
  3. passenger shot by an assailant while occupying a vehicle;
  4. individual shot by assailant while the individual stood next to his car in a parking lot;
  5. insured pinned by car after the vehicle unexpectedly rolled.

In Margaret Cramer v. National Casualty Co. an ambulance driver was returning to his ambulance when he was struck by a driver.  In this case, the underinsured (UIM) policy contained a provision covering insureds "occupying" the vehicle, which is traditionally defined by South Carolina courts as covering insureds "getting in" their vehicle.  Here, the court construed the UIM policy liberally in favor of coverage, and ruled that returning to a vehicle was enough to establish the causal connection between the vehicle and the claimant's use of the vehicle.

Am I covered by my own auto insurance if the at-fault driver doesn't have enough insurance to cover my loss?  The answer depends on whether or not your injury arose from the ownership, maintenance, or use of the vehicle.  This "use" may also be further defined in your insurance contract to include "occupying" the vehicle at the time injury arose.  If you or a family member was seriously injured in a South Carolina car crash, and the at-fault driver is underinsured, you may contact a lawyer at Stratos Law to discuss all options available to you.

Call Stratos Law at 843-216-7739, or contact us using our website.

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