New Jersey Appellate Court Upholds Denial of Businessowners Liability Coverage for Accident Involving Mechanical Lift Attached to Truck

In Ruffa v. Ruffa, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court examined an insurance coverage dispute arising from an accident involving a box truck. The defendant purchased the box truck for his catering business. The truck included a hydraulic lift. A warning printed on the lift directed that individuals should not ride on its platform. The truck’s owner manual also cautioned against using the lift as a wheelchair or personnel lift. The day after the defendant purchased the truck, he was installing shelving in the truck when his four-year old son accidentally activated the lift. The child’s arm became caught in the lift and sustained injury. At the time of the accident, the vehicle was parked in the defendant’s other business, a restaurant.

At the time of the accident, the defendant had not obtained automobile insurance for the truck, although he obtained it the following day. However, a defendant had obtained a Businessowners Policy for his businesses. The policy generally excluded coverage for bodily injury arising from the operation of an automobile, including “any equipment or machinery attached to such vehicle[.]” However, the policy provided coverage for bodily injury arising out of the use of “[c]herry pickers and similar devices used to raise/lower workers” if such devices are “permanently attached to an automobile.” The policy also provided coverage for bodily injury “arising out of …[the] use of mobile equipment,” which was in turn defined as “solely land vehicles (including any equipment or machinery permanently attached to, or forming an integral part of, the vehicle)… used solely at your premises.”

On the child’s behalf, the child’s mother sued her husband, his businesses, and his insurer for the purpose of obtaining coverage for the accident. Following discovery, the insurer filed two motions for summary judgment, both of which were denied. The insurer subsequently filed a motion for reconsideration of the second summary judgment motion. The trial court granted the motion and entered summary judgment in the insurer’s favor, holding that the underlying incident clearly fell within the scope of the subject policy’s automobile exclusion.

In its review of the trial court order, the Appellate Division initially examined the plaintiff’s contention that coverage should be found because the lift was similar to a cherry picker and was permanently attached to the truck. The Court disagreed, noting that unlike cherry pickers, the lift attached to the truck was not intended to raise or lower workers.

The plaintiff also contended that the incident fell within the policy’s coverage for injuries arising from “mobile equipment.” The Court observed that this argument was not raised at trial court. The Court further noted that this provision clearly did not apply, as the truck was not used solely at the insured’s premises. Finally, the Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the policy should be interpreted consistent with the insured’s reasonable expectations, noting that the policy was clear and enabled the average policyholder to determine the boundaries of coverage.
The Court therefore affirmed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in the defendant insurer’s favor.

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