Where a school bus driver and a bus aide assaulted a special needs student while he harnessed to a bus seat, no uninsured motorist coverage is due from a policy defendant issued to the student’s mother.
There was no causal connection between the student’s injury and use of the school bus as a means of transportation when the driver and aide criminally assaulted the student.
The parties have stipulated to these facts for the purposes of a declaratory judgment: Corriveau, a 10-year-old special needs student, was secured in a school bus seat with a special needs harness. The purpose of the harness was “‘to aid in the supervision of special needs children’ on the ride to school.
Another special needs student, Timothy, was similarly secured across from Corriveau when the school bus driver and a bus aide began assaulting Timothy, with a flyswatter, chemical spray, and their hands, feet and elbows. Corriveau was also struck “more than once during the incident.”
Ballagh, Corriveau’s mother, filed a declaratory action against State Farm, her automobile insurer, seeking coverage under her policy’s uninsured motorist provision for Corriveau’s injuries.
“The State Farm policy’s uninsured motorist provision covers an insured’s damages for bodily injuries that ‘arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use’ of the uninsured motor vehicle. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment in the circuit court.
“State Farm argued that coverage under the policy did not apply as a matter of law because Corriveau’s alleged injuries did not arise from the use of the school bus as a vehicle in the ordinary manner for which it was designed. State Farm relied on Doe v. State Farm Fire and Cas. Co., 878 F. Supp. 862, 865-67 (E.D. Va. 1995), in which that court, applying Virginia law, determined that the injuries suffered by the victim of an abduction and sexual assault within a stolen vehicle did not arise from the use of that vehicle as a means of transportation. …
“The circuit court granted State Farm’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. The circuit court found that there was no causal connection between Corriveau’s injuries and the use of the school bus as a vehicle used to transport children to school. The court determined that, because the alleged conduct was criminal in nature, it was ‘not normally contemplated by the parties to an automobile liability policy’ and, therefore, was not a reasonably foreseeable risk with transporting students to school, ‘even with the special needs aspect of that transportation.’”
“There was no causal connection between Corriveau’s injuries and the use of the school bus as a means of transportation. Here, as in Doe, the school bus was used as a situs for the assault, a use wholly separate from the intended use as a means of transportation.
“The following hypothetical noted by the Eastern District in Doe, applies with equal force to our facts as it aptly demonstrates the limits of the coverage applied to the ‘use’ of the vehicle: two passengers who come to blows over an argument in the back seat of an automobile can hardly claim that their resulting injuries arose out of the vehicle’s use as a vehicle. In such circumstances, the only relation of the injury to the vehicle is that the latter served as [the] situs or enclosure for the assault, no different from an apartment, an alley, or [an] elevator.’ …
“Further, the conduct, (i.e., the physical and verbal abuse of Timothy including, kicking, slapping, choking to the point of asphyxiation, making a ‘conditional death threat,’ hitting him with a flyswatter, elbowing him, aggressively covering his mouth with a hand, pushing his head against the side of the bus, and spraying a chemical in his face; as well as hitting Corriveau more than once) was conduct ‘not normally contemplated by the parties to an automobile liability policy.’
“The alleged actions of [the bus driver and the bus aide] were not reasonably foreseeable risks associated with transporting students to school, ‘even with the special needs aspect of that transportation.’
“Therefore, these actions could not have been intended to be within the scope of coverage. Nothing that caused Corriveau’s injuries were ‘implements of the vehicle. They were all independent of the vehicle itself.’ …
“UIM coverage does not extend to injuries sustained from an action or actions wholly separate from the use of a vehicle as a means of transportation.”
Corriveau v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., et al. Record No. 181533 (Powell) Dec. 19, 2019, Lynchburg Cir. Ct. (Burnette). William B. Hopkins Jr. for Appellant, John P. Cattano for Appellee. No brief filed by Appellee VACORP. VLW 019-6-099, 11 pp.