Louisiana insurance law recognizes a practical problem faced by many: the need to obtain alternative transportation when the car won’t start. Under La. R.S. 22:1296, any insurance on your personal vehicle must also extend to vehicles that are used as “temporary substitute autos.”
The statute provides that a car’s status as a “temporary substitute auto” depends on how the term is defined in the particular auto policy at issue. However, some rules typically apply to determine whether the auto is a “temporary substitute.” First, the use must be temporary, i.e. limited in duration. Second, the car must be a substitute for the auto insured under the policy and used for the same purpose. Third, policies typically limit coverage to substitute vehicles that the driver does not own.
Some policies also limit coverage by requiring that the substitution be needed for a purpose identified in the policy, such as the breakdown, repair, or destruction of the covered auto.
While the statute generally defers to the definition of “temporary substitute auto” provided in the policy, sometimes courts will overrule the insurer’s definition. For instance, in State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Safeway Insurance Company, 50-098 (La. App. 2 Cir. 9/30/15), 180 So.3d 450, the relevant policy defined a “temporary substitute auto” as a substitute for the owned auto when the owned auto was “being serviced or repaired by a person engaged in the business of selling, repairing, or servicing motor vehicles.” The case involved a motor vehicle accident that occurred while the policy holder operated a borrowed vehicle but before she brought her usual vehicle to a mechanic.
Citing the terms of the policy, the insurer denied coverage on grounds that the policy required the “temporary substitute auto” not only take the place of the driver’s usual vehicle, but also that the driver take the car to a mechanic before coverage would extend to the substitute vehicle. However, the court found this requirement to be against the public policies behind La. R.S. 22:1296 and found coverage under the policy extended to the borrowed vehicle.