Mathis v Interstate Motor Freight System; Hawkins v Auto-Owners; Ottenwess v Hawkeye; (MSC-PUB, 3/20/1980; RB #292)


Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 59454; Published  
Opinion by J. Kavanagh; (with J. Blair Moody Jr. Concurring in the Results)  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 408 Mich 164; Link to Opinion alt    

Standards for Deductibility of State and Federal Governmental Benefits [§3109(1)]  
State Workers Compensation Benefits [§3109(1)]  
Exception for Employer Provided Vehicles [§3114(3)]

Legislative Purpose and Intent
Workers Disability Compensation Act (MCL 418.1, et seq.)    

In a long awaited decision dealing with the receipt of no-fault first party benefits in work-related automobile accidents, the Supreme Court held as follows:

1.    An employee who suffers accidental bodily injury in the course of his employment while occupying a motor vehicle owned by the employer is entitled to collect no-fault benefits from the no-fault insurance carrier insuring the employer's vehicle and is not limited to workers' compensation as his sole remedy. Thus, the injured employee turns to the employer's no-fault carrier under §3114(3) of the statute to recover these benefits.

2.    Where the employer is self-insured, the insured employer may collect no-fault benefits directly from the employer in his role as insurer. Such recourse is not barred by the workers' comp exclusive remedy rule.

3.    Under §3109(1) a no-fault carrier or a self-insured employer providing no-fault benefits to an insured employee is entitled to set off any workers' compensation benefits received by the employee against the no-fault benefits due and payable. The setoff provisions of §3109(1) as applied to workers' compensation benefits are constitutional.

Even though Justice Williams and Justice Moody filed separate opinions, the Court was unanimous with regard to the holdings outlined above.
In reaching its conclusion regarding the exclusive remedy issue, the Supreme Court agreed with Judge Glenn Allen's dissenting opinion in Ottenwess v Hawkeye Insurance Company, 84 Mich App 292, which had become the majority view in a long fine of Court of Appeals cases prior to this Supreme Court decision.

In its disposition of the Ottenwess case, the Court assumed without specific discussion that the plaintiff was an "occupant" of his employer's vehicle. This assumption could be significant in light of the fact that Mr. Ottenwess was not actually within the four walls of his vehicle. On the contrary, Ottenwess was crushed to death when a dump truck box suddenly collapsed upon him, trapping him between the box and frame of the truck while he was attempting to examine or repair a malfunction in the box mechanism.

With regard to the workers' compensation setoff issue, the majority relied primarily on its earlier opinion in O'Donnell v State Farm, 404 Mich 524. In likening workers' compensation to the Social Security survivor's benefits in O'Donnell, the majority noted that "workers' compensation benefits are paid as a result of the same accident and duplicate in varying degrees the no-fault benefits otherwise due."

In his separate concurring opinion, Justice Williams noted that there was a significant difference between the workers' compensation benefits and the O'Donnell Social Security benefits. In his view, O'Donnell (in which he dissented) dealt with a classification between a personally paid for government benefit plan and a personally paid for private benefit plan. The issue with the workers' compensation setoff involves a classification between a non-personally paid for government plan and a personally paid for private plan. Justice Williams stated that, "The legislative differentiation between a non-personally paid for benefit system and a personally paid for benefit system is a reasonable and constitutional classification." Therefore, he continued his disagreement with the O'Donnell classification but joined the majority in upholding the workers' comp setoff.