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Regular Use Exclusion Found To Apply To Borrowed Car According To The Maine Supreme Judicial Court

In Estate of Mason v. Amica Mutual Insurance Co., 158 A.3d 495 (2017) the Maine Supreme Judicial Court found that where a driver is authorized to use another's car as if it was her own, pending repair of her vehicle, the borrowed car was available for regular use and was governed by the insurance policy's regular use exclusion.

In this case the driver seeking coverage was authorized to use her friend's vehicle as if it was her own while her vehicle was being repaired.

This case involved claims by the estates of passengers who were killed in a single vehicle accident. Claims were brought against the driver of the accident vehicle. The accident vehicle had been furnished to the driver by a friend whose driver's license had been suspended. The vehicle owned by the driver had broken down two weeks earlier. Because of this unavailability, the vehicle owner authorized the driver to use the accident vehicle as if it were the driver's own vehicle until the driver's vehicle had been fixed. As a condition of this arrangement, the driver agreed to provide rides in the accident vehicle to the owner because of the owner's driver's license suspension. The accident vehicle was in the possession of the driver, who used the vehicle to driver to and from work, to visit relatives, and to go to the tanning salon and gym. The driver was given possession of the accident vehicle keys. The vehicle was kept at the driver's home and the driver paid for gas most of the time.

At the time of the accident, the driver was a resident of her mother's household. The mother had a personal auto policy issued by Amica. An exclusion within that policy applied to any liability arising out of the use of a vehicle furnished for the regular use of any family member. The trial court held that the Amica policy's regular use exclusion applied. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court noted that regular use exclusions were meant to prevent any insured from receiving coverage for use of a vehicle without paying a premium for the coverage when that vehicle was available for regular use. The court found that there could be "regular use" of a vehicle even though some restrictions or limitations were imposed on the use of the vehicle. In determining whether use was regular rather than occasional or incidental, the court considered that the drivers use the accident vehicle as though it was her own, had the only set of keys, kept the car at her house, and paid for gas. Just because the owner of the vehicle imposed a condition upon that use which required the driver to give the owner of the vehicle rides did not convert the use to occasional or incidental rather than regular. The court was dismissive of the short duration of the use as being determinative in the analysis because the court declined to hold that "temporary" use could not also be "regular" use.

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