Police vehicles are not considered motor vehicles under New York law requiring uninsured motorist coverage

On June 1st, the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in NY) reviewed an Appellate Division holding that police vehicles needed to have supplementary uninsured/underinsured motorist (SUM) coverage. This case arose after an allegedly drunk driver hit a police car and a police officer riding in the passenger seat of the police car was injured. The officer driving the police car had an insurance policy covering injuries to “any other person while occupying” the driver’s personal vehicle or “any other motor vehicle” while being operated by the driver or the driver’s spouse. [emphasis added]

The Court of Appeals ruled for the insurance company, stating that NY case precedent distinguished between motor vehicles and police vehicles when defining “motor vehicles” in NY Insurance Law § 3420 (f). The Court concludes that this distinction applies to other sections of Insurance Law as well. “New York had traditionally exempted police vehicles from statutes dealing with civil liability.”

The dissent would have required the insurance company to compensate the injured officer/passenger. According to the dissent, “the Legislature intended to make compensation available in cases in which insured persons suffer automobile accident injuries at the hands of financially irresponsible motorists.” The same NY precedent established that the government had no obligation to provide the officer with uninsured motorist benefits and under this opinion the officer is left without uninsured motorist coverage altogether. In the words of the dissent, “neither the Legislature nor this Court would ever intend such a result.”

There is more to this case concerning whether to adhere to stare decisis and an analysis of preceding cases. If you want to read more beyond this simple summary, read the opinion here: https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2015/Jul15/119opn15-Decision.pdf

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