Progressive Classic Ins. Co. v. Blaud – 4/17/2006

April 17, 2006

Arizona Court of Appeals Division One Holds That Plaintiff’s Claim Complies With Arizona’s Uninsured Motorist Act, A.R.S. § 20-259.01(M), By Alleging That He Collided With A Tire From An Unidentified Vehicle On An Interstate Freeway, But The Superior Court Erred By Ruling That, As A Matter Of Law, Plaintiff’s Uninsured Motorist Policy Covered His Claim.

While driving his motorcycle on Interstate 10 in Phoenix, Peter Blaud collided with a piece of tire from an unknown vehicle. The collision caused him to lose control of his motorcycle, resulting in an injury to his shoulder. He claimed that the piece of tire was airborne when it hit him. Blaud filed a claim with his uninsured motorist insurer, Progressive. Progressive insisted that Blaud merely ran into a piece of tire that had been resting on the freeway for an unknown period of time. Progressive denied his claim and filed a declaratory judgment action in superior court to obtain a judgment that Blaud’s uninsured motorist policy did not cover the collision with the tire. Blaud counterclaimed that the policy did cover the claim and moved for summary judgment.

The superior court granted Blaud’s motion for summary judgment. It concluded that Blaud’s claim complied with Arizona’s Uninsured Motorist Act, A.R.S. § 20-259.01(M), which precluded uninsured motorist claims unless the insured showed that the unidentified vehicle made “physical contact” with the insured’s vehicle or the insured submitted corroboration that the unidentified vehicle caused the collision. See Scruggs v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 204 Ariz. 244, 245, 62 P.3d 989, 990 (Ct. App. 2003). It also concluded that the policy’s terms covered Blaud’s collision because his “injuries arose ‘out of the ownership, maintenance or use’ of an unidentified motor vehicle.”

The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part. It agreed with the superior court that Blaud’s claim complied with A.R.S. § 20-259.01(M). Blaud’s scenario—that the tire was expelled from another vehicle and hit him midair—would meet the “physical contact” requirement. See Anderson v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 133 Ariz. 464, 467, 652 P.2d 537, 540 (1982) (noting that it may constitute “physical contact” if an unidentified motor vehicle collides with an intermediate object, causing the object to make physical contact with the insured’s vehicle). Even if Progressive correctly argued that the tire had been resting on the interstate, the scenario permitted an inference that the tire had come from the operation of an unidentified motor vehicle. The tire was an “integral part” of the motor vehicle; it was not, for example, a “‘bale of wire that had fallen from an unidentified flat bed truck.’” See Gardner v. Aetna Cas. & Sur. Co., 114 Ariz. 123, 559 P.2d 679 (Ct. App. 1976). Therefore, the physical contact requirement was met.

The court further concluded that, even if there was no physical contact, Blaud had submitted independent corroboration that an unidentified motorist caused his injuries. See A.R.S. § 20-259.01(M). Blaud presented expert testimony that a piece of airborne tire collided with Blaud’s motorcycle. Furthermore, a fact witness saw Blaud collide with a piece of tire on an interstate freeway. From this corroboration, it could have been concluded that an unidentified motorist caused Blaud’s injuries.

The court reversed the superior court’s summary judgment that, as a matter of law, the collision fell within the terms of Blaud’s insurance policy. To the contrary, a fact finder could have concluded that, for example, the tire fell from the back of a garbage truck. The court noted that compliance with A.R.S. § 20-259.01(M) merely allows the claim; it “does not establish coverage under the policy.”

Judge Snow authored the unanimous opinion.