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“Motor Vehicle Exclusion” in Homeowner’s Policy Precludes Coverage for Carbon Monoxide Injuries

Blogs, Insurance Coverage

In New London County Mut. Ins. Co. v. Nantes, 303 Conn. 737 (2012) the Connecticut Supreme Court held that a host’s homeowner’s insurance policy exclusion for injuries arising out of the use of a motor vehicle precluded coverage for serious injuries suffered by two houseguests when the host left her car running in a closed garage overnight.

The houseguests, two medical school graduates, traveled to Connecticut to participate in an internship program at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Connecticut. Their host, Maria Nantes (“Nantes”), allowed the two to live at her home during their internships. As part of the arrangement, Nantes drove the houseguests to and from the hospital each day. At the end of one day, Nantes drove the houseguests to her house, parked her car in an attached garage, closed the garage door, but did not turn off the vehicle’s engine. The vehicle ran the entire night, causing the houseguests to suffer serious neurological injuries from carbon monoxide poisoning. The houseguests suffered additional injuries when Nantes dragged them out of the house.

Several days after the incident, Nantes submitted claims for medical expenses to her homeowner’s insurer, New London County Mutual Insurance Company. The insurance company promptly disclaimed coverage, relying primarily on an exclusion in the homeowner’s policy which stated: “[c]overage [for] [p]ersonal [l]iabilty and . . . [m]edical [p]ayments to [o]thers do[es] not apply to ‘bodily injury’ or ‘property damage’ . . . [a]rising out of . . . [t]he ownership, maintenance, use, loading or unloading of motor vehicles . . . .” New London County ultimately filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that Nantes’ homeowner’s policy did not provide coverage for the injuries because they fall within the policy’s motor vehicle exclusion. 

In affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of New London County, the Supreme Court determined that the phrase “[a]rising out of the’ the “use” of “motor vehicles,” means “[o]nly that the accident or injury was ‘connected with,’ ‘had its origins in,’ ‘grew out of,’ ‘flowed from,’ or ‘was incident to’ the use of the automobile.” The term “use” as applied to the motor vehicle exclusion, “[d]enotes the employment of an automobile for some purpose of the user.”

Based on the above, the Court held, “[w]hen Nantes drove into the garage, exited the car and left it there upon entering the house, she was parking the car. Parking is plainly an employment of a car for some purpose of the user. Moreover, the act of parking does not fail to be an employment of a car for some purpose of the user merely because the user performs the act negligently, as Nantes did by exiting the car without turning it off.” Because Nantes’ “use” of her vehicle was the proximate cause of the houseguests’ neurological and dragging injuries, the Court concluded that those injuries were excluded under the motor vehicle exclusion.