Tennessee Court Finds Low Threshold to Constitute “Regular or Frequent” Use of an Auto

The Tennessee Court of Appeals recently provided a bit more guidance with respect to the specific facts necessary to demonstrate regular or frequent use of an automobile as to trigger application of an important policy exclusion.  The Court’s recent opinion in Kelley Weed v. First Acceptance Insurance Company of Tennessee, Inc., 2013 WL 4680201, E2013-001-COA-R3CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Aug. 29, 2013), determined use of an automobile only once or twice a week constituted regular or frequent use.  Id.

Here, the insured vehicle was driven by an unlisted driver, Caleb Jenkins, and was involved in an automobile accident while operating Kelley Weed’s automobile.  First Acceptance Insurance Company of Tennessee, Inc. (“First Acceptance”) denied Kelley Weed’s claim, contending Jenkins was a regular and frequent operator of Weed’s vehicle having learned from the insured that Jenkins was a “fairly regular” driver of his 2001 Nissan Pathfinder, driving the automobile approximately once or twice a week for the preceding six months.  Id.

First Acceptance denied the claim based upon its policy exclusion in that an unlisted driver who “is a regular or frequent operator” of the insured automobile was operating the insured vehicle at the time of the accident.  The trial court agreed that Jenkins’ use fell within the terms of the exclusion.  Id.

The Court of Appeals considered prior case law, including the case of Murphy v. Chadwell, 1998 WL 117401 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1998), wherein use of a car three to four times per week amounted to regular or frequent use.  Here, Weed described Jenkins as a “fairly regular” driver of the car and also admitted Jenkins had driven the automobile once or twice a week for the preceding six months prior to the accident.  This use of the automobile as a “fairly regular” driver and as someone who used the insured’s automobile approximately 26 to 52 times in a six-month period certainly constituted a “regular and frequent” operator falling within the scope of the policy exclusion.  Id.  Thus, the exclusion applied and there was no coverage for the insured’s loss.

The Weed case provides a bit more clarity demonstrating specific factors constituting regular or frequent use that falls within a policy’s automobile exclusion for unlisted drivers.  Prior to this case, we knew that use of an automobile three to four times a week would constitute regular use.  However, we now know that use of an automobile once or twice a week would also constitute regular use for the purpose of applying the automobile exclusion.