With the growing use of golf carts outside the boundaries of golf courses, it is worth some discussion about whether a golf cart is a motor vehicle. If it is, could it be an “uninsured motor vehicle” under an automobile insurance policy such that an insured would have uninsured motorist (UM) coverage for property damage caused by a golf cart?
A typical auto policy pays for damages for bodily injury or property damage a covered person is legally entitled to collect from the owner of an uninsured motor vehicle. This is UM coverage. South Carolina Code § 56-9-20 defines “motor vehicle” as “every self propelled vehicle which is designed for use upon a highway.” While the statute lists some very specific exceptions to the definition, golf carts are not among the exceptions. This means that if a golf cart meets the definition of a motor vehicle, it could also be an “uninsured motor vehicle” entitling the victim of golf cart mayhem to UM coverage.
The one case in South Carolina that may be instructive is Anderson v. State Farm Mutual Insurance Company, 314 S.C. 140, 442 S.E.2d 179 (1994). In this case, an insured vehicle collided with an uninsured farm tractor, killing the driver of the tractor and injuring the insured driver. The driver of the automobile filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a declaration that a farm tractor is a “motor vehicle” under the UM statute. The Court said a tractor was not a motor vehicle under the statute and was properly excluded from coverage. The Court of Appeals affirmed stating that even though a tractor may incidentally or occasionally enter the highway, “a vehicle must be designed to operate on the highway in order to come within the term ‘motor vehicle’” (emphasis added).
Under the same analysis, a golf cart may enter roadways incidentally or occasionally, but it may not be specifically designed for that use. Traditionally, golf carts were instead designed for a fairly specific recreational purpose on closed designated pathways. This may not be true any longer, as golf carts get “souped-up” and are used more and more off the course.
The Anderson court also makes a point to say that the UM statute is not intended to apply to injuries inflicted by vehicles that are not subject to registration or compulsory insurance requirements. However, golf carts, at least if you want to drive on the roadways, are subject to mandatory registration requirements. South Carolina Code § 56-3-115 requires purchase of a $5.00 permit to drive a golf cart on secondary roads within two miles of the residence during daylight hours. If the owner seeks to permit a golf cart, he or she must also provide proof of insurance. Under Anderson, if golf carts have a registration along with an insurance requirement, this may mean that golf carts are subject to the uninsured motorist statute. However, the Anderson court also says “the fact that farm tractors are subject to statutes regulating traffic on the highway, does not convert farm tractors to motor vehicles for insurance purposes.” This seems to be an open question here, and it raises interesting questions in determining what exactly is a “motor vehicle.” FORE!