From Garcia v. Superior Court, published yesterday by the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Four:
[J]uan F. Garcia owned a Snorkel International Snorkelift Articulating Telescoping Boom [“Snorkelift”]. The device is used to access places that are otherwise difficult to reach, such as a ceiling light bulb that is beyond reach of a ladder. It is mounted on four wheels, battery driven, and can reach a speed of four and one-half miles per hour. It is not designed for highway use. Garcia had the device at his home . . . parked on the street. He advertised it for sale. Robert Weinberger . . . saw the ad and came to Garcia’s residence to inspect it. He brought a flatbed dump truck . . . with which he planned to haul off the Snorkelift if he succeeded in buying it from Garcia. Apparently, Weinberger liked what he saw. He and Garcia agreed on a price, and Weinberger and two of his employees . . . tried to winch the Snorkelift onto the truck. The effort failed when a winch cable broke. . . .
Weinberger’s solution was to hire a [flatbed] tow truck . . . to come to the scene and assist in loading the Snorkelift onto the truck. . . . The plan was to pull the Snorkelift [onto] the tow truck bed, back up the dump truck so that it articulated with the bed of the tow truck, then [drive] the Snorkelift from the tow truck onto the dump truck [which Garcia agreed to do] . . . .
[The driver] backed up the dump truck so that the rear of its flatbed contacted the bed of the tow truck, creating a path along which the Snorkelift could be driven onto the dump truck. He then turned off the ignition and exited the dump truck. Unfortunately, he failed to set the brakes. As Garcia proceeded to drive the Snorkelift from the tow truck onto the dump truck, the dump truck rolled forward, creating an opening. The Snorkelift and Garcia fell into this opening onto the street, to the distress of both. Garcia suffered physical injury as a result, and sued . . .
Garcia did not have liability insurance with respect to the Snorkelift. The . . . defendants . . . filed a motion in limine to preclude Garcia from claiming noneconomic damages [pursuant to California’s uninsured motorist statutes].
It was not disputed that the Snorkelift was an uninsured "vehicle" or that Garcia was "operating" it at the time of the accident. The key issue became:
[W]hether the accident "originat[ed] from the operation" of the Snorkelift “on any street or highway,” as required by section 16000, subdivision (a) [of the California Vehicle Code]. Garcia was “operating” the Snorkelift, since he was driving it from the tow truck onto the bed of the dump truck that had been backed up to the tow truck. The question is whether he was doing so “on” a street or highway.
In other words: "When is a vehicle operated or used 'on' a street or highway?" After considerable analysis, the Court of Appeal reversed the trial court and held:
[W]e conclude, both from the point of view of the literal language of the statute and from examination of its purpose, that it does not apply to the Snorkelift once that device was removed from the road and placed as freight [on another vehicle] for transportation to another site.
So Garcia was not precluded from claiming noneconomic damages as an uninsured motorist. The law never ceases to amaze me . . . .