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Rhode Island Supreme Court Holds that for Purposes of the State’s Underinsured Motorist Statute, a Good Samaritan Was “Occupying” a Parked Vehicle and thus Covered by that Vehicle’s Insurance

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Hudson v. GEICO Ins. Agency, Inc., No. 2016-15-Appeal (PC 12-6179), 2017 WL 2622777 (R.I. June 16, 2017). The Rhode Island Supreme Court held that a Good Samaritan injured while assisting at the scene of an accident was “occupying” another vehicle at the time of injury, and could recover from that vehicle’s insurer. The plaintiff was inside a parked vehicle owned by her boyfriend when she heard a crash. While assisting at the scene, another vehicle struck the vehicles involved in the accident and injured the plaintiff. Plaintiff’s claim with that other vehicle’s operator was settled, but the amount was insufficient to cover her injuries. She sought additional coverage from her boyfriend’s policy. The insurer denied the claim on the grounds that the plaintiff was not “occupying” the insured’s vehicle when she was injured. 

The Court applied the four-prong test in General Accident Ins. Co. of America v. Olivier, 574 A.2d 1240 (R.I. 1990), which provides that a person is “occupying” a vehicle when the following factors are present: (1) there must be a “causal relation or connection between the injury and the use of the insured vehicle;” (2) plaintiff must be “in a reasonably close geographic proximity to the insured vehicle;” (3) plaintiff must be “vehicle oriented rather than highway or sidewalk oriented at the time [of the injury];” and (4) plaintiff must be engaged in a “transaction essential to the use of the vehicle at the time of his or her injuries”. The court was required to address the interplay between Rhode Island’s Good Samaritan Act (the “Act”), and the term “occupying” a motor vehicle. It said that the “general purpose” underlying the four factors was “to extend coverage broadly,” that a plaintiff may fail to satisfy one of the four factors and still qualify, and that “this determination is intensely fact-driven.” The key conclusion was that in light of the Act, “a willingness to render aid at the scene of a motor vehicle collision . . . is inherently part of the use of a motor vehicle in this state . . . [Under the Act], not only is a Good Samaritan “unable to ignore’ the call of distress at the scene of an accident, but he or she is statutorily required to render reasonable assistance.” It thus found that public policy “dictates that good Samaritans should be protected.”