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A Forklift is A Motor Vehicle: Insurance Wisdsom From the 5th Cir.

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Yes, it's true. The Fifth Circuit finally decided that age old question: is a forklift a motor vehicle?

The court in Boyett v. Redland Ins. Co. needed to answer this ludicrous metaphysical question because an insurance company wanted to use Louisiana law to try to foreclose any chance of a truck driver receiving compensation from a forklift accident.

No dice insurers, a forklift is a motor vehicle.

Louisiana Uninsured Motorist Statute

Clyde Boyett was a truck driver employed by Boeuf River hauling lumber in North Carolina. In 2009, Boyett was injured by a Carolina Lumber employee who was using a forklift to unload lumber. Boyett had a leg injury that ended in amputation of the lower portion of his right leg. Boyett was insured through his employer under a Redland Insurance auto policy issued in Louisiana.

The statute at issue in this case was a provision in Louisiana law that provided for certain mandatory uninsured motorist coverage.

Applying the much-beloved Erie doctrine, the Fifth Circuit took as good a stab at interpreting this Louisiana law as the Louisiana Supreme Court might. In line with its French roots, the Louisiana legal system doesn't put much stock in a single case's stare decisis, instead giving only persuasive weight to a consistent series of decisions.

Napoleon would be proud, but the Boyett Court still had to untangle this forklift question in terms of Louisiana law.

Definition of 'Motor Vehicle'

Lacking any definition section of the statute, the Fifth Circuit turned to a section which distinguished an insured motor vehicle as needing to be "designed for use of public highways and required to be registered in this state." Uninsured "motor vehicles" had no such clarification.

In order to avoid superfluous meaning in its statutory interpretation, the Boyett Court affirmed that a forklift would need to be considered within the scope of the statute. This reading also comported with the state's intent to favor and protect the insured over the uninsured motorist.

Looking to other statutory sources, the Louisiana Highway Regulatory Act refers to "motor vehicles" as any vehicle which is self-propelled and even electric trolleys. The Fifth Circuit settled on a composite definition from the Act that included:

  • self propelled devices
  • by which persons or things can be transported
  • upon a public highway

If this wasn't convincing enough, the Boyett Court announced the plain meaning of "motor vehicle" as a vehicle propelled by its own motor -- like a forklift.

Bottom Line

Without any convincing authorities to the contrary, the Fifth Circuit favored a statutory interpretation that was broad enough to protect an insured motorist against tort. Even if that means calling a forklift a "motor vehicle."

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