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Is a Person an Animal?

Author: VU Faculty

​The PAP defines "collision" to involve impact of an insured auto with another auto or object. Comprehensive, or "other than collision" (OTC) coverage applies to contact with a bird or animal. So, if you hit a pedestrian, is it a comprehensive or a collision loss?


Question"I had a client who hit a pedestrian. Minor injuries to the pedestrian and I believe the physical damage claim should be paid out of the comprehensive coverage. The adjustor is telling me he will pay it out of collision coverage. My argument is that the person can be considered an 'animal," while his version is that the person is considered an 'object.' I know this sounds cold, but the policy is ambigious and does not specifically state how a person should be considered. Also the adjustor stated, 'That is how pedestrian claims have always been covered.' I would like someone else's view on this."

 

AnswerHere is how the 2005 PAP defines "collision":

"Collision" means the upset of "your covered auto" or a "non-owned auto" or their impact with another vehicle or object.

"Other than collision" or as it's commonly referred to, comprehensive, includes the following:

Loss caused by the following is considered other than "collision":
9.  Contact with bird or animal;

Since the PAP is not clear on the issue of a pedestrian, we put it to a vote of the VU faculty with somewhat mixed results. Basically, the choice boils down to whether a person should be considered an "object" (collision coverage) or an "animal" (comprehensive coverage).

Here's what Websters says about "animal"

Faculty Response
1 : any of a kingdom (Animalia) of living things including many-celled organisms and often many of the single-celled ones (as protozoans) that typically differ from plants in having cells without cellulose walls, in lacking chlorophyll and the capacity for photosynthesis, in requiring more complex food materials (as proteins), in being organized to a greater degree of complexity, and in having the capacity for spontaneous movement and rapid motor responses to stimulation.
2 a : one of the lower animals as distinguished from human beings.

If it's not clear, then the doubt goes to the insured.  It may take a biologist to tell us for sure though, whether a person is an animal.  Oh yeah, "how claims were always paid" means nothing.

Faculty Response
(1) The Collision peril, under a PAP, states that it means "impact with another vehicle or object" but it goes on to say, "Loss caused by the following is considered other than collision":....(9) contact with a bird or animal.  You are correct that the contract does not defined the word "animal," therefore we look to dictionary definitions. Below are just some of the references that I found, all saying essentially the same thing:   

Animal Definitions:

Encarta World Dictionary: mammal: a land mammal other than a human being.

Cambridge International Dictionary: something that lives and moves but is not a human, bird, fish or insect.

The Wordsmyth English Dictionary: such a living creature other than a human, esp. a mammal.

The American Heritage Dictionary :  An animal organism other than a human, especially a mammal.

(2) Collision with an animal or bird is covered under Comprehensive coverage as a benefit to the insured. The deductible is usually lower and comprehensive claims are treated in a better light than collision claims by carriers. 

(3) The list of "other than collision" perils is not the only perils covered.  Rather they are there to clarify that, even if they result from a collision, these types of losses will be treated as OTC. Included is hitting an animal.  This is an exception that is afforded the insured who purchase OTC/Comprehensive coverage.

(4) If the insured had purchased "specified perils," that list of named perils does not include an exception for hitting a bird or an animal.  If the insured purchased the more restrictive named peril form they would have coverage for hitting a bird or an animal ONLY IF they also purchased collision. 

The adjuster is correct, I am afraid...hitting a bird, animal, person, or anything else are collision losses. The collision exception, for those that have purchased Comprehensive coverage, only applies when hitting a bird/animal. Since a human is neither a bird or animal, then hitting a human is considered a collision loss. 

Faculty Response
Dictionary.com says this of animal:
 
A human considered with respect to his or her physical, as opposed to spiritual, nature.

And this of object:
 
Something perceptible by one or more of the senses, especially by vision or touch; a material thing.
 
According to Biology 101, human beings are members of the Animal kingdom (I know a few that might cause that to be questioned).
 
Cut the check under the comp coverage and save the bad faith claim!!

Faculty Response
If you assume the dictionary definition:
 
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition.  2000.
 
animal
 
NOUN:
1. A multicellular organism of the kingdom Animalia, differing from plants in certain typical characteristics such as capacity for locomotion, nonphotosynthetic metabolism, pronounced response to stimuli, restricted growth, and fixed bodily structure.
2. An animal organism other than a human, especially a mammal.
3. A person who behaves in a bestial or brutish manner. 
 
Based on the above, a human is not an animal, unless you are referring to definition 3 above which does cloud the issue.

I hope this is not about the size of the deductible. I'd be more worried about the policy being canceled.

Faculty Response
There is case law in Texas that clarifies collision with a pedestrian is a collision loss. I suspect that your jurisdiction would decide in a similar fashion.

Faculty Response
Dictionary definitions seem to vary so, at best, I'd say it's ambiguous.  If you look at the underlying reason for an exception being made for bird or animal as a comprehensive loss, I think you'll find that it's because of the unpredictable nature.....a bird can fly, or an animal dart, in front of a car, making the loss somewhat unpreventable for the insured. Likewise, I think one argument would be a pedestrian unexpectedly stepping out into traffic, if that is indeed what happened.
 
I never cease to be amazed at how often the comprehensive vs. collision issue comes up.

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