• Board of Education v. St. Paul Fire & Marine: The Expansion of the Concept of "Use"
  • September 11, 2003 | Author: John W. Lemega
  • Law Firm: Halloran & Sage LLP - Hartford Office
  • In Board of Education v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 261 Conn. 37 (2002), the Connecticut Supreme Court expanded the definition of "use" as it applies to the use of the motor vehicle. In Board of Education, a school bus driver in Bridgeport was transporting special education students to Bassick High School. He dropped off two of the students without any adult supervision. They went into the school, and one of the students sexually assaulted the other. The assaulted student brought suit against the Bridgeport Board of Education who turned the complaint over to its automobile liability carrier, St. Paul. St. Paul denied the claim and the Board of Education commenced a declaratory judgment action in the United States District Court. Motions for Summary Judgment were filed and the United States District Court referred the issue of "use" for consideration by the Connecticut Supreme Court.

    The Supreme Court emphasized that the term "use" is to be construed to include all proper uses of a vehicle not falling within any other term of definition. It must be understood in its most comprehensive sense and the term is not confined to motion on the highway, but extends to any activity utilizing the insured vehicle in a manner intended or contemplated by the insured. Id. at 43. Given the breadth of that definition of "use," the Court concluded that the assault resulted from an anticipated use of the bus (to transport the special education students) and that it was the negligence of the bus driver which was the operative event giving rise to the assault.

    This Supreme Court decision effectively pushes the concept of "use" to the very edge of reasonable definition. It continues the court on a track which will trigger coverage when there is any relationship between a tort and a vehicle and diminishes the importance of a causal relationship between the tort and the vehicle.