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Westfield Insurance Company v Crane and Equipment Rental, Inc.; (COA-UNP, 10/1/1999; RB #2098)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 209118; Unpublished  
Judges Gribbs, O'Connell, and Burns; Unanimous; Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt   

General / Miscellaneous [§3135] 
Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to Be Registered [§3101(1)]    

Not Applicable   

In this unanimous unpublished per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals held that a business auto insurance policy issued to the operator of a mobile crane attached to the bed of a Ford utility truck, provided liability coverage when an allegedly defective choker wire broke, causing a beam to break loose from the crane hoist, killing a bystander.  

The court found that this policy, issued by plaintiff Westfield Insurance, was ambiguous with regard to whether the crane was a "covered auto" under the policy. This ambiguity must be resolved in favor of the insured, and therefore the court construed the policy in favor of the insured and found that coverage existed in this case.    

The court then went on to address whether liability coverage contained in this auto policy covered the specific incident that gave rise to this claim. The court found that the policy did apply because the damage that occurred in this case was caused by the ownership, maintenance or use of the motor vehicle, and therefore coverage was required pursuant to section 3131 and 3135 of the Act. The court stated:  

 "Plaintiff [Westfield] argues that the accident involved negligence regarding work place safety and had nothing to do with the ownership, maintenance or use of the vehicle. We disagree. The liability coverage contained in the policy is designed to cover the residual liability retained under the no-fault system. MCLA 500.3135(1) provides that tort liability exists for death, serious impairment of body function, or permanent serious disfigurement caused by the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.... The injury must be sufficiently causally connected to the ownership, maintenance, or use of the vehicle.... The causal connection must be more than incidental, fortuitous or but for, rather, the injury must be foreseeably identifiable for normal use, maintenance and ownership of the vehicle. The injury in this case (death from a steel beam that fell from a crane) resulted from, an allegedly defective choker wire on the crane itself. The causal connection between the injury and the vehicle is more than incidental, fortuitous or but for. The injury resulted from an alleged malfunction of the vehicle itself. Therefore, we conclude that a sufficient causal connection exists between the injury and the ownership, maintenance or use of the vehicle. The trial court correctly concluded that the policy issued by plaintiff provided liability coverage for this crane accident."

The court then went on to hold that the Supreme Court's decision in McKenzie v ACIA [Item No. 1995] did not affect this conclusion. The McKenzie decision held that so-called "dual purpose vehicles" must be used "as motor vehicles" in order for no-fault PIP benefits to be payable. Here, the case did not involve a claim for PIP benefits, but rather an issue of whether tort liability coverage existed under an automobile policy. In distinguishing PIP claims under section 3105 from tort claims under section 3135, the court stated in footnote 2:

"We note that the vehicle need not be used 'as a motor vehicle' as is required to recover no-fault personal protection insurance benefits under MCLA 500.3105(1). Whether a vehicle is being used 'as a motor vehicle' is a separate question from whether a sufficient causal connection exists between the injury and the use of the vehicle. McKenzie v Auto Club Ins Ass'n, 458 Mich 214 (1998)."

Michigan auto accident attorney Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit

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