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What is considered to be an Inoperable car and does it need to be insured?

Every owner of a motor vehicle used on Florida roads must insure their vehicles with both Personal Injury Protection insurance ($10,000.00) and property damage liability insurance. However, insurance may not be required if a motor vehicle is in a state of inoperability. What renders a car inoperable is subjective, and varies on a case-by-case basis. It is important to report the inoperability to the Personal Injury Protection insurer.

What is truly required by Florida law?

We must first look at Florida Statutes Section 627.733 to understand what is truly required by all drivers in the State of Florida.

627.733 Required Security.

(1)(a) Every owner or registrant of a motor vehicle… required to be registered and licensed in this state shall maintain security as required by subsection (3) in effect continuously throughout the registration or licensing period.

                Importantly, Florida Statutes Section 320.01 contains the definition of a motor vehicle.

Specifically, Section 320.01(1)(a) defines a motor vehicle as:

a. An automobile, motorcycle… or any other vehicle operated on the roads of this state, [emphasis added], used to transport persons or property, and propelled by power other than muscular power…

The above statute reinforces the common understanding that a driver must have PIP insurance to properly drive in Florida. However, the statute also directs us to a vehicle operated on the roads of Florida. Thus, we can infer from the statute that the Legislature solely intended to require drivers of cars that are “operable” and driven on the streets of Florida to maintain the required Personal Injury Protection insurance.

Case law definition of an “inoperable vehicle”

Case law has defined an inoperable vehicle as one containing a defect in the motor vehicle, mechanical failure, or simply a motor vehicle that requires repair. See Sherman v. Reserve Ins. Co., 350 So. 2d 349, 351 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist., 1977); see also Quanstrom v. Standard Guaranty Ins. Co., 504 So. 2d 1295 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 5th Dist. 1987). An automobile which has been rendered inoperable due to mechanical failure or defect does not fall within the definition of a motor vehicle pursuant to Florida Statutes Section 320.01(1)(a). An inoperable vehicle is not driven for a reason: one cannot utilize it to travel from Point A to Point B. Such a motor vehicle is “stuck in the mud” and serves no purpose. There is no public interest served by denying personal injury protection benefits to an individual involved in an accident in another’s automobile merely because that individual has an inoperable automobile in storage upon which the insurance coverage has intentionally been allowed to lapse because of its inoperable condition.

Inoperable VS. Operable

The main questions to distinguish an operable car from an inoperable car based on case law are:

  1. How Bad is the Car Broken down?

Mechanical Failure

In Sherman v. Reserve Ins. Co., 350 So. 2d 349, 351 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist., 1977), Mr. Sherman was injured in an automobile accident in which he was operating a motor vehicle owned by the insured, Arlie Miller. At the time of the accident, Mr. Sherman owned a vehicle that was uninsured. At the time of the accident, Mr. Sherman’s personal vehicle had mechanical failure and could not be driven. Thus, Mr. Sherman let the insurance lapse. The Appellate Court held that Mr. Sherman was not required to be registered and licensed nor maintain security, as the motor vehicle remained an assemblage of components which is incapable of functioning as a motor vehicle.

Clutch Issues/ Payment Problems

In Fortune Insurance Co. v. Oehme, 453 So. 2d 920 (Fla. 5th DCA 1984), Mr. Oehme was not driving his car due to a clutch problem. The clutch repair was relatively minor, however, he didn’t have the cash to pay for the repair. He put his cars in storage-one in his backyard and the other in his front yard. The 5th District Court of Appeals ruled that Mr. Oehme need not insure his car, as he did not use it for six (6) months, had no intent on operating the vehicle, and failed to repair it for that six-month period.

  1. Was the Vehicle in Storage and…
  2. What is the Driver’s Subjective Intent?

If a motor vehicle was in storage for a long duration without usage it is clear that the vehicle is inoperable. Another aspect of the storage factor is if the car is broken down. If the vehicle is in storage for let’s say six months, due to rust and mechanical failure, the car would most likely be classified as inoperable. Conversely, if a car is temporarily in storage and the driver intends on traveling on the roads in Florida in that vehicle, the car would most likely require the minimum security ($10,000.00 PIP and property damage coverage).

A driver may intend to store the vehicle in his yard and never drive the car again. Defects to a motor vehicle may render the car too expensive to repair. If a driver intends on storing the car for a temporary period of time due to rising repair costs, case law has classified the car as inoperable.

  1. Whether the Car is Currently Licensed and Registered

It is much easier to show inoperability if a car isn’t currently licensed and registered. This factor likewise blends with a driver’s subjective intent. If a vehicle owner allowed their car insurance to lapse along with its registration, it is more likely that they did not intend on driving this vehicle on the roads of Florida.

In conclusion, the operability of a motor vehicle varies on a case-by-case basis. You truly need an experienced PIP Litigation attorney to handle the process of fighting the insurance carriers to ensure coverage and ultimately the timely payment of benefits. We here at the LaBovick Law Group handle these types of suits on a daily basis. Our litigation strategies ensure that our providers receive exactly what they demanded from the PIP insurers.

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