Slone-Bratton v. Selective Insurance Company
August 4, 2020
Linwood Slone was fatally injured while doing paving work on a road in Roanoke County, Virginia when two drunk drivers failed to heed lane closure warnings and caused a collision in which Slone was killed.
During the paving project, Slone operated a dump truck hauling loads of hot asphalt. At the paving site, after the hot asphalt was removed from the dump truck by a front-end loader, Slone would get out of the dump truck and check to see if any asphalt had fallen onto the road. Additionally, while this work was being done, a pickup truck owned by Slone’s employer, Draper Paving, was placed nearby with flashing lights activated in order to warn oncoming traffic of the presence of the paving workers.
Slone was killed after two drunk drivers disregarded a Draper Paving employee who was acting as a flagger, and the warning provided by the pickup truck, and both vehicles crashed into the front-end loader. After the accident, Slone was discovered pinned between one of the drunk driver’s vehicles, the rear blade of the front-end loader, and the dump truck’s left rear tires. He died of his injuries.
At the time of the accident, Slone’s employer had obtained insurance from Selective Insurance in which the dump truck and the pickup truck were “covered autos.” The administrator of Slone’s estate subsequently made a claim for uninsured/underinsured coverage under the Selective policy. In order to be entitled to coverage, it was necessary that Slone be “occupying” the vehicles at the time he was injured. The Selective policy further defined “occupying” to mean, “in, upon, using, getting in, on, out of or off” the vehicles.
In determining whether Slone was using the dump truck at the time of the accident, the Supreme Court rejected the argument that the process of “getting out of” a vehicle is complete as soon as physical contact with the vehicle is severed. Rather, it found that the question of whether an individual is “getting out of” a vehicle depends on whether the individual’s conduct is still “vehicle-oriented” at the time of the injury, as determined by the totality of the circumstances. Since the evidence indicated that Slone was still vehicle-oriented at the time of the accident, he was “getting out of” the dump truck when he was injured and, therefore, his estate was entitled to the coverage provided by the Selective policy for the dump truck.
The court found that Slone was also entitled to the coverage provided by the policy for the pickup truck because he was “using” the pickup truck at the time of the accident. In doing so, it noted that, pursuant to Virginia law, the critical inquiry in determining whether an individual is “using” a vehicle when injured requires determining whether there was a causal relationship between the incident and the employment of the insured vehicle as a vehicle. The court found that the pickup truck was used by Draper Paving employees as safety equipment in addition to its use for transportation. Since Slone was using the pickup truck for its specialized safety purpose at the time of the accident, he was occupying the pickup truck and was entitled to insurance proceeds under the Selective Insurance policy’s coverage of the pickup truck.