Uninsured “Boaterist” Insurance?

The Georgia Court of Appeals in Kelley et al. v. The Cincinnati Ins. Co., held watercraft were not included in the definition of motor vehicle for purposes of the Uninsured Motorist Act. Kelley involved the collision of two boats. One plaintiff, Randy Kelley (“Mr. Kelley”), was a passenger on his friend’s boat, when it was struck by a boat traveling the opposite direction. Mr. Kelley sustained serious injuries including brain damage, a ruptured diaphragm, ruptured spleen, left lung puncture, broken left scapula, numerous broken ribs, and other injuries. Allegedly, Mr. Kelley’s medical bills amounted to over $500,000.


Mr. Kelley and his wife, Susan, had three insurance policies with the Cincinnati Insurance Company (“Cincinnati”): a homeowner’s policy, an automobile policy, and a personal watercraft policy. There was no dispute that the homeowner’s policy did not apply. However, the Kelleys sought uninsured coverage from their automobile policy and their personal watercraft policy. Melvin Ellison, whose boat struck the boat Mr. Kelley was riding on, had a policy with a liability limit of $100,000. After the Ellison’s insurance company paid the policy limits, the Kelleys sought uninsured payments from their automobile policy and their personal watercraft policy. Cincinnati denied coverage under both policies. The parties filed competing motions for summary judgment and the trial court granted Cincinnati’s motion dismissing the Kelley’s suit against Cincinnati.


The Kelleys appealed to the Georgia Court of Appeals. The Kelleys argued that their policies were “motor vehicle policies” and therefore should cover the boat collision. The personal watercraft policy only covered accidents “to which no other bodily injury policy applies at the time of the accident.” Cincinnati argued that because Ellison’s policy offered bodily injury coverage, the watercraft policy did not apply. With regard to the automobile policy, Cincinnati argued that the policy language explicitly excluded watercraft. The Kelleys argued that the Uninsured Motorist Act, O.C.G.A. §33-7-11, included watercraft in the definition of motor vehicle and Cincinnati’s effort to limit coverage was contrary to the statute.


The Georgia Court of Appeals noted there was no definition of motor vehicle in the statute, but the dictionary definitions limited motor vehicles to those used on highways. In addition, the Georgia Court of Appeals looked at other insurance statutes and determined that a watercraft was not included in the definition of “motor vehicle.” Therefore, because the insurance policies did not contravene either Georgia law or public policy, the Georgia Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s dismissal of the Kelley’s claims against Cincinnati.

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