Tennessee Court of Appeals Interprets Exclusionary Clause in Automobile Casualty Insurance Policy

more+
less-

Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued an opinion involving the interpretation of an exclusionary clause in an automobile casualty insurance company. In the case of Weed v. First Acceptance Insurance Company of Tennessee, Inc. No. E2013-00150-COA-R3-CV, 2013 Tenn. App. LEXIS 572 (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2013), the issue before the Court was an interpretation of the “regular or frequent operator” exclusion. This exclusion precludes coverage for a loss or accident arising from an accident which occurs while the automobile is being driven in any manner by an unlisted driver who is a regular or frequent operator of any vehicle insured under the policy.

In Weed, Caleb Jenkins, who was not listed on the policy as a “driver,” was involved in an accident while driving the vehicle owned by Kelly Weed (“insured”). The insurer, Federal Acceptance Insurance Company of Tennessee, Inc. (“insurer”) moved for summary judgment, relying upon the “regular or frequent operator” exclusion. In support of its Motion, the insurer filed an affidavit of its claims processor who testified that she received a call from the insured reporting her claim and took a recorded statement. In the statement, the insured advised that the driver was a fairly regular driver who drove the vehicle once or twice a week for some six months. The insured did not deny or dispute making this statement nor did she deny its accuracy.

The trial court held that the driver was not a “regular” operator of the vehicle but was a “frequent” operator of the vehicle. It granted the insurer’s Motion for Summary Judgment, finding the policy exclusion was not ambiguous when attributing the ordinary meaning of the words in the exclusion.

The issue on appeal was whether the trial court erred in holding that driving a vehicle once or twice a week for six months constitutes regular or frequent use and falls within the exclusionary clause. The Tennessee Court of Appeals reviewed prior case law and dictionary definitions of the terms “regular” and “frequent.” It noted that the insured described the driver, at the time of the accident, as a “fairly regular” driver of her car who had driven it once or twice a week for the six months prior to the accident. “By this admission, insured established that Jenkins had routinely been driving the vehicle at fairly short intervals, for a total of between 26 and 52 times in the six-month period. Under the circumstances, we hold that Jenkins’ use of insured’s vehicle was ‘regular or frequent’ and therefore there was no coverage for loss resulting from the accident under the unambiguous terms of the exclusionary clause.”