Thursday, May 31, 2018

Massachusetts Appeals Court interprets alcohol exclusion in PIP coverage

Margarita Rodriguez was injured in an auto accident. A police report indicated that an occupant of the other vehicle said that Rodriguez's car "came out of nowhere."  The report did not provide any other statements with respect to causation.  It did not indicate whether alcohol was involved in the crash.
Rodriguez was taken to the hospital.  Hospital records indicated that she was intoxicated. 
Rodriguez's insurer was Commerce. Commerce refused to reimburse a medical provider under PIP coverage, citing an exclusion applicable if the insured "contributed to his or her injury by operating an auto while under the influence of alcohol." 
The Massachusetts Appeals Court overturned the granting of summary judgment to Commerce.  In Dorchester Chiropractic & Rehab Centers Inc. v. Commerce Ins. Co., 2018 WL 2247343 (Mass. App. Ct.) (unpublished), the court held that the exclusion required that two distinct elements be met: (1) the insured was operating under the influence of alcohol, and (2) the insured's conduct contributed to her injury.
The court held that there was no evidence showing how the car accident occurred, or of how Rodriguez contributed to it.  Therefore, the second element necessary for the exclusion to apply was not met. 
The court also held that whether or not Rodriguez was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident was a disputed question of fact, since the police officer who had interacted with her at the accident scene did not mention alcohol in the police report.