The Supreme Court of Virginia recently issued an opinion addressing the nexus requirement for injuries a victim suffered on a school bus. The case arose after a special needs child suffered abuse while riding a school bus. The victim, who was ten years old at the time of the incident, has autism and cannot communicate verbally. The bus driver and aide were aware of the boy’s special needs and used a harness to secure him into his seat. While the boy was strapped to his seat, two other children repeatedly beat the boy, slapped his head, choked him, and sprayed chemicals in his face. The victim’s mother filed a claim under her uninsured motorist coverage, for damages the boy suffered due to the attack. The insurance company argued that the policy did not cover this situation because no nexus existed between the boy’s injuries and the school bus’s use as a means of transportation.
In Virginia, when courts analyze the application of an insurance policy coverage concerning the “ownership, maintenance, or use” of a vehicle, they place significant consideration on the intention of the parties to the agreement. Under the law, “ownership, maintenance, or use” should be evaluated under the terms’ ordinary meaning. The primary inquiry is whether there is a causal relationship between the incident and the use of the vehicle, as a vehicle. Although, the vehicle’s use does not need to be the actual or proximate cause of the injury, there should be a causal connection. In other words, for coverage to apply, the use of the vehicle cannot be incidental or tangential. Courts look to what the victim was doing when he suffered injuries, and what role the vehicle played in the incident.
In this case, the court found that his mother’s uninsured motorist provision did not cover the victim’s injuries. The insurance company’s provision provides that the company pay damages for bodily injuries that “arise out of the ownership, maintenance, or use” of the uninsured vehicle. Here, the court reasoned that the assailants abused the boy on the bus; however, the bus was used as a means of transportation. Further, the physical abuse the boy suffered was not typically contemplated by the policyholders to a car insurance policy. Therefore, because the conduct was “foreign” to the school bus’s purposes, the court found no nexus existed.