Recently, in Thomasville, Georgia, an 8-year-old boy died as the result of being run over by a golf car operated by an 11-year-old. The golf car was occupied by three other small kids. The police report indicates a belief the kids were playing a game in the road, which led to accidentally running over the child.2
There are at least several questions raised by this tragic news item. The golf car was being operated on a road and the operator was an 11 year old child. Was the venue a private or public road? Would there be a difference in liability outcome for the golf car owner if it was a private road? If I was the golf car owner, would my golf car insurance carrier defend me in an ensuing lawsuit?
The answers to these kinds of questions will vary from state to state and insurance policy to insurance policy. However, the golf cart endorsement to a homeowner’s policy typically won’t cover you if your unlicensed child is driving.3
If the golf car liability insurance is under your homeowner’s policy and the accident occurs other than on your property or on a golf course, one commentator states it is likely you will not be covered.4 However, some homeowners policies include coverage for use of the golf car in “A private residential community, including its public roads upon which a motorized golf cart can legally travel, which is subject to the authority of a property owners association [“POA”] and contains an ‘insured’s’ residence.”5 Thus, under these recited conditions, the golf car owner may be protected. However, note the conditions: (i) the road must be one on which the golf car “can legally travel”; (ii) the road is “subject to the authority of a POA”; and (iii) the POA must contain the “insured’s” residence.
Suppose I own a residence in a POA and have an accident not on the road governed by my POA but on a connecting street governed not by a POA but by an independent authority not a POA. Further, assume the independent authority does not have any rules regarding use of golf cars on its street. Does this mean I can “legally travel” on the street?
However, the same policy provides coverage where: “A motorized golf cart that is owned by an “insured”, designed to carry up to four persons, not built or modified after manufacture to exceed a speed of 25 miles per hour on level ground and, at the time of an ‘occurrence’, is within the legal boundaries of:… A golfing facility and is parked or stored there, or being used by an “insured” to: . . . Cross public roads at designated points to access other parts of the golfing facility; . . . .”6
Now in the instance I am using for illustration, assume the golf car is owned by me, the insured, conforms to the speed and occupant limitations described in the policy and is being used to Cross a private road to access a golfing facility. Note the road is not public but a private road. Am I insured for an accident occurring on the private road when crossing it from my residence where the golf car is stored to access the golfing facility? The answer is likely not. Note the requirement “to access other parts of the golfing facility”. That is, I am not crossing the road to get from one golf hole to another.
Another specimen policy we came across excludes liability coverage except for “golf carts while used for golfing and other transportation off public roads.”7 We conclude under this policy, if the street on which the accident occurs is a public road, there is no liability protection. This exclusion of public roads severely reduces the benefit of the insurance for an owner who uses the golf car to visit a neighbor or to do incidental shopping using a public street in a community where use of the public street by golf cars is legal.
Golf cars may be insured as a component or rider under a homeowner’s insurance policy, an automobile insurance policy, or under a separate golf car or recreational motor vehicle policy. Many of these policies cover only property damage liability which means that if you are involved in a crash, you are unprotected.8
One source, a well known golf car friendly residential community recommends: “owners purchase a separate golf cart insurance policy with the following coverages: Medical Payments Coverage; Liability Coverage for third-party injuries and property damage as a result of a golf cart accident; Collision Coverage; Other than Collision coverage for other damages such as theft, flood and vandalism; and Uninsured Motorist Coverage.”9
Country and golf clubs which allow members to use their own golf cars by paying a “trail fee” usually require evidence of insurance. Likewise, in many private gated residential communities, the community association requires golf car owners provide evidence of insurance for their golf cars. In both cases typically the club or association also requires the owner to name the club or association as an additional insured. We have also found most municipalities and counties allowing the use of golf cars on their public roads require evidence of insurance.
However, we also notice the lack of any specifics when these clubs, community associations or local governments require insurance. Is a certificate of insurance sufficient to satisfy the governing body of the venue? Does the governing body examine the policy or certificate to ascertain whether the insurance coverage is sufficient to include incidents occurring within their jurisdiction on private or public streets? Does the certificate or policy include insurance coverage for medical payments; liability for third-party injuries and property damage; collision; other than collision coverage for other damages such as theft, flood and vandalism; and uninsured motorist coverage. Our surmise is very little attention is brought to bear on either inspection of the insurance certificate or policy for sufficiency of coverage.
One source we reviewed states: “It’s the way the [golf] cart is used that determines your insurance costs and coverage needs . . . but can vary by the amount of coverage you want, your location, claims filed and other factors. It pays to compare several golf cart insurance quotes from competing companies to get the best deal. Make sure each offer provides the same amount of coverage.”10
If you are expecting to use your golf car anywhere other than on a golf course it may be wise to consider a Miscellaneous Type Vehicle Endorsement, (“MTV Endorsement”).11 This endorsement includes as the “insured” you or any “family member” for the ownership, maintenance or use of your golf car; any person using the golf car; and for the golf car any such person or organization but only with respect to legal responsibility for acts or omissions of such person. However, we note “family member” is not defined in the MTV Endorsement. Recourse should be made to the primary insurance policy to which the MTV Endorsement is appended to ascertain who is included within the term “family member.”
We also observe under the exclusions provisions B.1 of the MTV Endorsement: “Liability Coverage [is not provided[ for the ownership, maintenance or use of any vehicle which Is designed mainly for use off public roads.” Now, the rub here is a golf car is designed for use on a golf course not on public roads.12 Only if the vehicle is either a low speed vehicle (“LSV”)13 or personal transportation vehicle (“PTV”),14 is the Endorsement apparently effective to provide liability coverage. These two types of vehicles are similar in profile to golf cars but equipped with accessories not present in golf cars. LSVs and PTVs are designed primarily for on road use but also are used off road.
However, in typical insurance language the MTV Endorsement then recites: “This Exclusion (B.1.) does not apply: . . . To a vehicle insured for Liability Coverage under this endorsement.” We conclude if the golf car owner specifically lists his/her golf car under the MTV Endorsement Schedule and Declarations it will be covered for liability insurance.
But we are not finished with our examination of the exclusion language of the MTV Endorsement. In the very next paragraph, exclusion B.2 recites: “2. The following exclusion applies under Part A to any vehicle for which the Schedule or Declarations indicates that the passenger hazard is excluded: We do not provide Liability Coverage for any “insured” for “bodily injury” to any person while “occupying” the described “miscellaneous type vehicle”.
The “take away” is if you obtain an MTV Endorsement for your golf car, you need to be most careful to include passenger hazard as an included liability coverage both under the primary liability policy and the MTV Endorsement. Statistics show that passengers of golf cars are most often the injured parties in golf car accidents as opposed to the driver.
The foregoing discussion illustrates the need for careful examination of any insurance policy or endorsement offered to a golf car, PTV or LSV owner by the insurance company or its agent. It is most important if the owner desires adequate insurance coverage to first decide what coverage he/she desires and then make an informed decision not based solely upon the insurance agent’s advice but rather the owner’s or his/her attorney’s examination of the policy or endorsement. If examining an endorsement, the underlying policy should be examined also for definitions and exclusions.
It is often said “insurance is not a panacea”. That is, it is not a solution or remedy for all risk avoidance associated with the use of small vehicles. Insurance companies are not in the business of opening up their war chests for frivolous claims or indeed for injury or damage not covered by the letter of the insurance policy. Their duty is to preserve their assets for legitimate claims not excluded in the policy and if they are other than a mutual or cooperative company to make a profit for their shareholders.
This is not to say that insurance companies are not risk adverse themselves. So we find that liability and property damage policies often contain exclusions and limitation of liability clauses that are anything but obvious to the uninitiated. As we have found, these clauses may not fit the reality of what a small vehicle owner needs. The insurance industry is generally skeptical about the use of golf cars, PTVs and LSVs when mixed with automobile and larger vehicle traffic.15 Thus, they may be seen to go out of their way to avoid providing comprehensive insurance coverage for their use in other than for off-road and golf course environments.
In conclusion, it is wise to not solely rely on insurance protection against property damage, injury or death claims arising out of the use of your golf car, PTV or LSV. The best protection against risk is taking care to avoid the risk, whether it is not allowing unlicensed persons, especially children to operate your vehicle; avoiding drinking alcoholic beverages or becoming distracted while operating your small vehicle; and obeying all the warnings conspicuously displaced on the front of the vehicle as well as extrinsic warnings, e.g., traffic signs. Likewise, modification of the vehicle to allow it to go faster than designed by its manufacturer is a recipe for an injurious accident.
1 The author of this article is Fred L. Somers, Jr., Esq., ILTVA Secretary and General Counsel. The views expressed in this article are intended for information only and to generate inquiry by owners of golf cars, PTVs and LSVs and local governments and their legal counsel respecting insurance policies purchased or contemplated for purchase by the owners. They do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of ILTVA or its members. This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion.
5 HO 00 05 05 11 © Insurance Services Office, Inc., 2010
Personal Auto PP 03 23 01 05 © ISO Properties, Inc., 2003
12 See ANSI/ILTVA Z 1301. Paragraph 3.15 Golf Car. A vehicle used to convey a person or persons and equipment to play the game of golf in an area designated as a golf course. https://www.iltva.org/standards/
13 LSVs are defined in Section 1.1 of FMVSS 500, 49 CFR 571.500. LSVs are the subject of AAMVA model legislation drafted by its Legal Services (LS) Committee (see
http://www.aamva.org/uploadedFiles/MainSite/Content/SolutionsBestPractices/BestPracticesModelLegislation( 1)/ModelLaw_LowSpeedVehicles.pdf and the subject of legislation in a majority of states. Low speed vehicle means a 4-wheeled motor vehicle, whose speed attainable in 1 mile (1.6 km) is more than 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) and not more than 25 miles per hour (40 kilometers per hour) with not more than a 1 percent gradient in the direction of testing and not more than a 2 percent gradient perpendicular to the direction of testing. Also the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is the SDO for SAE J2358 Low Speed Vehicles. See http://standards.sae.org/j2358_201611/
14 A PTV is currently defined in ANSI/NGCMA Z135 as a self-propelled vehicle with a minimum of 4 wheels, capable of a maximum level ground speed of less than 32 km/h (20 mph), maximum rated pay load capacity of 545 kg (1200 lb), maximum gross vehicle weight (GVW) of 1,135 kg (2,500 lb) and capable of transporting not more than four persons, operating on designated roadways or property where permitted by law, or the applicable regulatory authority. ILTVA is the SDO. See www.iltva.org/standards
15 See, e.g., http://www.iihs.org/iihs/sr/statusreport/article/45/5/1