The omnibus “use” clause in a standard commercial auto policy can be tricky. There is no easy definition that explains how expansive the term “use” should be read.
In Burlington Coat Factory of New Jersey, LLC v. Jay Dee Trucking et al., the New Jersey Appellate Division, in an unpublished opinion, dismissed a retailer’s complaint seeking insurance coverage from defendant trucker and its commercial auto insurer. The retailer was sued a worker was injured at the retailer’s loading dock, after defendant trucker had parked at the loading dock. Instead of using a dock plate that the retailer had previously misplaced, another employee used an unsecured piece of plywood to fill the gap between the truck and the dock. Plaintiff claimed that he was injured after the board slid after he stepped on it.
The retailer sought insurance coverage under the “loading and unloading” doctrine, which holds that such operation is part of the “use” of the vehicle. However, the lower court declined to extend coverage, noting that the injured plaintiff plead the action as a premises liability case, rendering the loading and unloading doctrine inapplicable. The Appellate Division affirmed, stating that the negligent maintenance of the dock (including the misplacement of the dock plate) caused the accident, rather than a negligent use of the truck that would trigger insurance coverage. As such, the loading and unloading doctrine was deemed inapplicable and the retailer plaintiff denied coverage under the trucker’s policy.
Just because a truck was at a loading dock when the accident occurred does not automatically mean the loading and unloading doctrine is applicable, and insurers should pay close attention to the specific facts and events when evaluating truck claims in New Jersey.