Meeks v. Berkbuegler, 43510

Citation632 S.W.2d 24
Decision Date09 March 1982
Docket NumberNo. 43510,43510
PartiesDouglas MEEKS, etc., Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Richard D. BERKBUEGLER and State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., Defendants-Respondents.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Missouri (US)

Stephen F. Meyerkord, William R. Kirby, St. Louis, for plaintiff-appellant.

Ben Ely, Jr., Ray E. White, III, Kortenhof & Ely, St. Louis, for defendants-respondents.

SNYDER, Judge.

Plaintiff appeals from a granting of defendant-respondent State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company's 1 motion for directed verdict at the close of appellant's evidence. The action arose from an off-road accident between appellant's motorcycle and defendant Richard Berkbuegler's dune buggy. Appellant sued respondent State Farm pursuant to the uninsured motor vehicle provision of appellant's automobile liability insurance policy. Appellant's claim against individual defendant Berkbuegler was dismissed without prejudice after State Farm's motion for directed verdict was granted.

The trial court granted the motion for a directed verdict on the ground that "there is no coverage in this type of situation," meaning coverage under the uninsured motorist section of the policy. This court agrees with the trial court and affirms the judgment.

Appellant argues the trial court erred in granting respondent's motion for a directed verdict for three reasons. First, he says appellant's evidence raised an issue of fact whether the dune buggy fit within the policy's definition of an uninsured motor vehicle. Second, he argues the provision purportedly excluding the dune buggy from the definition of an uninsured motor vehicle is ambiguous and should be construed against respondent. Third, he maintains the exclusion is void as against public policy.

The accident occurred on June 7, 1977 on the grassy part of the Interstate 55 right-of-way near the Gasconade Street entrance ramp in St. Louis, Missouri. Appellant and Richard Berkbuegler were riding their vehicles up and down the hill located there. Appellant was riding a Kawasaki trail bike and Berkbuegler a four wheel dune buggy type vehicle, the exact nature of which is in dispute. Appellant, then age 15, suffered serious injuries in a collision between the two vehicles.

Berkbuegler assembled the dune buggy chassis from a kit he purchased from Chenowth Racing Products, Inc. Berkbuegler followed the instructions in the kit when he welded the frame together. Berkbuegler then added a Volkswagen engine and transmission and other Volkswagen parts to complete the buggy.

The Volkswagen parts were installed according to the Chenowth plan. Berkbuegler then added additional equipment according to the Chenowth plan and still more equipment which was necessary so that the vehicle could be registered and licensed. The added equipment consisted primarily of lights, brakes and seat belts. Berkbuegler then secured a state title and license for the buggy.

The resulting vehicle was essentially a skeleton of metal tubing. It had no external shell of any kind. It had no windshield. The passenger compartment was completely exposed to the elements. The engine was also completely exposed. The front wheels were standard Volkswagen wheels and tires. The rear wheels were slightly larger than standard Volkswagen wheels and had "X" tread tires, similar to snow tires, mounted on them. It was, however, licensed for use on public roads.

Berkbuegler testified that he built the vehicle primarily for off-the-road, recreational purposes. He said he modified the original Chenowth design and licensed the vehicle so that, if the need arose, he could take the buggy out on the street without fear of getting a ticket.

Berkbuegler used the dune buggy primarily on weekends at state parks. He towed the buggy to the parks rather than driving it there on the highway. He testified that in three months he drove the buggy to work three times. He also occasionally drove the buggy in the evening on short trips to friends' houses. Berkbuegler carried no liability insurance on the dune buggy.

Appellant was covered by a State Farm liability insurance policy. The policy included insurance for injuries caused by an uninsured motor vehicle. The policy's definition of "uninsured motor vehicle" read in part:

"Uninsured Motor Vehicle-Means:

1. A land motor vehicle not insured or bonded for bodily injury liability at the time of the accident; ...

An uninsured motor vehicle does not include a land motor vehicle:

5. designed for use mainly off public roads except while on public roads; ...

State Farm maintained that the dune buggy was a vehicle designed mainly for use off public roads, and, because the accident occurred off public roads, the dune buggy was not an uninsured motor vehicle under the policy.

Appellant first argues that the evidence raised an issue of fact whether the dune buggy was a vehicle designed for use mainly off public roads and therefore the granting of a directed verdict was error. The point is ruled against appellant.

Granting a directed verdict at the close of plaintiff's case is a drastic action which should be taken only when all the evidence and reasonable inferences therefrom are so strongly against the plaintiff that reasonable persons could not differ. McCarthy v. Wulff, 452 S.W.2d 164, 168(3) (Mo.1970); Kaelin v. Nuelle, 537 S.W.2d 226, 229(1-4) (Mo.App.1976).

No reasonable person, however, would conclude that the dune buggy in question was anything other than a land vehicle "designed for use mainly off public roads." The original designers clearly intended the buggy to be used off the road. The original Chenowth design did not even meet the requirements for state licensing. Berkbuegler built the vehicle primarily to use off public roads and actually used the vehicle primarily off public roads.

The vehicle had no exterior shell; it had no windshield. The vehicle was little more than a four-wheeled rail with a roll-cage. That Berkbuegler added headlights, taillights, seat belts, rearview mirrors and brakes and licensed the vehicle so that he would not get a ticket if he drove it on the street, did not transform it into a standard on-the-road vehicle. This court holds appellant failed to raise an issue of fact about the nature of the vehicle.

Appellant next argues that the term "designed for use mainly off public roads except while on public roads" is ambiguous and therefore should be construed against respondent. The point is meritless.

Appellant insists the word "designed" in particular is ambiguous because it does not identify whose design should be considered....

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  • M.P. v. Trexis One Ins. Corp.
    • United States
    • Missouri Court of Appeals
    • July 29, 2022
    ...they are off public roads. State ex rel. Toastmaster, Inc. v. Mummert , 857 S.W.2d 869, 871 (Mo. App. 1993) (citing Meeks v. Berkbuegler , 632 S.W.2d 24 (Mo. App. 1982) ).2 An uninsured motorist's liability is determined under tort law, but the insurer's obligation to pay UM damages to its ......
  • State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Stockley, ED 84200.
    • United States
    • Missouri Supreme Court
    • August 30, 2005
    ...originally plus the plan of any person who significantly modified the vehicle. The language is not ambiguous. Meeks v. Berkbuegler, 632 S.W.2d 24, 26 (Mo.App. E.D.1982). In Meeks, the directed verdict in favor of State Farm was affirmed based on evidence that the original designers clearly ......
  • Mid-Century Ins. Co. v. Nichols
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri
    • January 11, 2013
    ...have held that no coverage existed for off road vehicles under automobile policies containing comparable language. For example, in Meeks v. Berkbuegler, the Missouri Court of Appeals held there was no coverage for an accident involving a dune buggy that occurred off public roads, where the ......
  • American Family Mut. Ins. Co. v. Peck
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    ...(holding that a horse-drawn buggy was not a motor vehicle for purposes of uninsured motorist coverage), or Meeks v. Berkbuegler, 632 S.W.2d 24 (Mo.App.1982) (holding that a dune buggy being operated off-road was not an uninsured motor vehicle). The issue here is not whether the ATV was a mo......
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