Insurance--UIM Covers Children Boarding School Bus

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Chavez v. Arizona School Risk Retention Trust, Inc., 609 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 37 (App. Div. II, May 18, 2011) (J. Howard)

Plaintiffs were school children waiting in line to board a school bus when an underinsured vehicle struck the bus and then careened into the children. The defendant moved for summary judgement regarding the children's claim for UIM benefits arguing such coverage under the statute and language of the policy only applied to passengers while being transported by the vehicle. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment. The Arizona Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed awarding attorneys' fees to the children pursuant to ARS sec. 12-341.01.

The court of appeals first noted that ARS sec. 20-259.01 (B) mandates underinsured motorist coverage for all individuals "using the motor vehicle" at the time of injury. Prior Arizona cases have held this includes loading and unloading the vehicle. Further a school bus is a "specialized" vehicle in that it has lights and signs designed to protect children as they board and depart from the bus. Thus a school bus is intended for more than just a means of transportation. Accordingly, 20-259.01 (B) mandates UIM coverage for children using the vehicle for the purpose it was intended regardless of what the applicable insurance policy says.

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