Temporary Substitute for Covered Auto
A federal court in West Virginia has reviewed what constitutes a substitute auto in the context of a commercial auto policy. The owner of JRH Trucking, Ltd., James Herrington, contacted a mechanic to service one of the company’s coal trucks. The mechanic drove a flatbed truck to JRH’s facility, but was unable to complete the repairs on site and asked Herrington if he could take the coal truck back to the mechanic’s garage. The mechanic left the flatbed truck at JRH’s facility and gave Herrington the keys. Herrington was notified when the repairs were complete and was given permission to drive the flatbed truck to the garage to retrieve the coal truck. On the way to the garage, Herrington rear-ended another vehicle while driving the flatbed truck. Herrington and JRH sought a defense in a subsequent lawsuit, pursuant to a commercial auto policy issued to JRH.
The Court held in Canal Insurance Company v. Carpenter, 2016 WL 2732190 (May 10, 2016 N.D.W. Va.)n that the flatbed truck was a temporary substitute auto. The case turned on whether the flatbed truck was a “temporary replacement” for a “covered auto,” an issue that West Virginia’s Supreme Court has not addressed. The Court observed that the purpose of the temporary substitute provision is to extend continuous liability coverage when another vehicle must be temporarily used in the place of a covered auto due to the covered auto’s “breakdown, repair, or servicing[.]” The Court concluded that because the flatbed truck was used in the same way as JRH’s coal truck, to complete needed repairs, the flatbed truck was a temporary replacement. Notably, the Court rejected the argument that the flatbed truck was not a temporary replacement because it was not used to haul coal. Accordingly, the Court held that JRH and Herrington are entitled to liability coverage under the commercial auto policy.