Golf carts are typically designed to hold two people and their golf clubs for the purpose of transporting them around a golf course instead of walking. However, it is not uncommon (especially in Florida) for someone to own a golf cart, keep it at their home and use the golf cart as a mode of transportation both to and from the golf course and/or around their community. Insurance companies may issue a separate recreational vehicle policy to insure these golf carts in the event of property damage or an accident. However, what happens in the event that someone fails to obtain a separate recreational vehicle policy, drives the golf cart, gets in an accident and is faced with a claim for damages from the injured person? Will the driver’s own personal automobile policy cover the claim? It depends on how a car is defined under the policy.
In Baldassini v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company,1 the insured’s daughter drove the golf cart and accidentally hit another person, resulting in serious injuries. When the daughter and her parents were faced with a claim, they sought coverage under their personal automobile policy. However, State Farm denied the claim because the golf cart did not qualify as a “car” under the policy which defined a car as “a land motor vehicle with four or more wheels, which is designed for use mainly on public roads.” The district court granted summary judgment in favor of State Farm. On appeal, the issue was whether the golf cart was “designed for use mainly on public roads”:
As one Florida District Court of Appeal has explained, the plain meaning of the phrase “designed for use” is that an object has been made for a particular purpose so that it can be used for that purpose with reasonable efficiency and safety. Am. Emp. Ins. Co. v. Yeomans, 356 So.2d 1281, 1285 (Fla. 2d DCA 1978) (“ ‘[D]esigned for use with’ seems to us to connote an object planned with a particular use in mind and so manufactured as to serve that use with reasonable efficiency and safety.”) (quotation marks omitted). Another Florida District Court of Appeal has interpreted the phrase “mainly on public roads” to mean that a vehicle is “primarily” used on “public highways.” See State Farm Fire & Cas. Co. v. Becraft, 501 So.2d 1316, 1317 (Fla. 4th DCA 1986) (“Unquestionably, the dune buggy involved here was primarily designed for use off the public highways, albeit it was usable on such highways, and was licensed therefor, and on occasion used thereon.”).
Applying the everyday meaning of the phrase “designed for use mainly on public roads” to the [golf cart] can lead to only one conclusion. That vehicle was not designed for use mainly on public roads. Its manual says:
These vehicles are designed and manufactured for off-road use. They do not conform to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and are not equipped for operation on public streets. (emphasis added).
Here, the golf cart was not equipped with a number of safety features which were required by law for passenger cars operated on public roads such as “a brake system acting on all wheels, a windshield meeting applicable glazing requirements, a windshield defrosting and defogging system, a compliant transmission shift level, an outside rearview mirror, and a compliant seatbelt assembly and anchorage system.” Therefore, in affirming the district court’s judgment that the golf cart was not covered under the policy, the Eleventh Circuit stated that even though the golf cart had some safety features such as “brake lights that would minimize some of the dangers of driving it on a highway,” it did not fit the plain meaning of a “car” in the State Farm policy and was not designed for use mainly on public roads.
As we approach the New Year, if either you or a family member own a golf cart, this would be a good time to review your homeowner’s policy and/or automobile insurance policy to determine what coverages are provided for your golf cart, i.e., if the golf cart is covered for both property damage or bodily injury, or if a separate recreational motor vehicle policy is necessary.