Auto Insurance Coverage for Tow Trucks
The frequency of occurrence of vehicular accidents and various kinds of mechanical breakdowns that cause the disablement of cars and trucks on the streets and roads of the United States necessarily results in an extensive use of tow trucks to assist in the resolution of such situations and the removal of affected vehicles from the scenes of such accidents and breakdowns. The operations of tow trucks, and the variety of risks involved in their use, create a number of unique concerns in the area of motor vehicle insurance.
One issue that arises in cases resulting from tow truck operations is the meaning of such standard auto insurance policy terms as “using,” “operating,” or “occupying” a vehicle when those terms are applied to the situation of a tow truck driver who is not physically within the tow truck or the disabled vehicle at the time the tow truck driver receives injuries, a problem compounded by the dangers inherent in the environments in which tow truck drivers are often required to work. A separate question is whether a tow truck, in light of its physical configuration and the uses to which it is put, is to be considered an “automobile” for purposes of determining such things as the availability of underinsured motorist or uninsured motorist coverage. The status of drivers of disabled vehicles during towing operations, for example, when they are injured while outside their vehicles or while occupying a tow truck as passengers after an accident or breakdown, may also require resolution, with additional complications arising if the coverage at issue is no-fault or personal injury protection coverage on the disabled vehicle. The insurance consequences of property damage to a disabled vehicle while it is undergoing towing operations may also come into play.
The business of insurance in the United States, including that of motor vehicle insurance, has historically been governed by the separate laws of each of the states rather than by a single unified body of federal law. As a result, the legal standards dealing with the insurance consequences of tow truck operations will vary from state to state, and will be found in the state statutes regulating the business of insurance and in the decisions of courts dealing with matters related to insurance law.