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McKenzie v Auto Club Insurance Association; (MSC-PUB, 7/14/1998; RB #1995)

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Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 103676; Published  
Published Opinion by Justice Taylor; 4-3 (with Justices Cavanagh, Mallett, and Kelly Dissenting)  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  458 Mich 214; Link to Opinion alt  


STATUTORY INDEXING:  
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]  
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Transportational Function Requirement [§3105(1)]  

TOPICAL INDEXING:  
Legislative Purpose and Intent   


CASE SUMMARY:  
In this 4-3 Opinion written by Justice Taylor, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals in Item No. 1794, and denied no-fault benefits to plaintiff for injuries sustained when he was non-fatally asphyxiated while sleeping in a camper/trailer that was attached to his parked pick-up truck. The court held:

"We conclude that plaintiff's injury is not covered by the no-fault act because it did not arise out of the use of a motor vehicle 'as motor vehicle' as required by MCL 500.3105(1).... Accordingly, we hold that whether an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle 'as a motor vehicle' under §3105 turns on whether the injury is closely related to the transportational function of motor vehicles. If we apply this test here, it is clear that the requisite nexus between the injury and the transportational function of the motor vehicle is lacking. At the time the injury occurred, the parked camper/trailer was being used as sleeping accommodations. This use is too far removed from the transportational function to constitute use of the camper/trailer 'as a motor vehicle' at the time of the injury. Thus, we conclude that no coverage is triggered under the no-fault act in this instance." (emphasis added)

In reaching its conclusion, the majority placed great emphasis on the fact that §3105(1) contains the limiting phrase "as a motor vehicle" to limit the scope of PIP coverage. The court held that this phrase "requires distinguishing use ‘as a motor vehicle ' from any other uses." These other uses are not within the reach of no-fault coverage. In this regard, the court stated:

"While it is easily understood from all our experiences that most often a vehicle is used 'as a motor vehicle,' i.e., to get from one place to another, it is also clear from the phrase used that the Legislature wanted to except those other occasions, rare as they may be, that a motor vehicle is used for other purposes, e.g., as a housing facility of sorts, as an advertising display (such as at a car dealership), as a foundation for construction equipment, as a mobile public library, or perhaps even when a car is on display in a museum. On those occasions, the use of the motor vehicle would not be 'as a motor vehicle,' but as a housing facility, advertising display, construction equipment base, public library, or museum display, as it were. It seems then, that when we are applying the statute, the phrase 'as a motor vehicle' invites us to determine if the vehicle is being used for transportational purposes."

The court then went on to make the point that its new test (requiring a close relationship to the transportational function of motor vehicles) is consistent with the analysis employed in previous appellate court decisions, such as Turner v Auto Club Insurance Association, 448 Mich 22 (1995) (Item No. 1757); Putkamar v Transamerica Insurance Corporation, 454 Mich 626 (1997) (Item No. 1929); Winter v Auto Club Insurance Association, 433 Mich 446 (1989) (Item No. 1293); Thornton v Allstate Insurance Company, 425 Mich 643 (1986) (Item No. 935); and Bourne v Farmers Insurance Company, 449 Mich 193 (1995) (Item No. 1780). For example, regarding the unavailability of PIP benefits in motor vehicle assault cases, the majority referred to the Thornton decision as a precursor to the rule enunciated in the case at bar. In this regard, the majority stated:

"In Thornton, the Court held that injuries sustained by a taxi driver in the course of an armed robbery did not arise out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. It clearly concluded that only injuries arising out of the ‘functional use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle' triggered no-fault coverage. It found that the taxi was merely the situs of the robbery. It held that while robbery-related injuries were arguably ‘foreseeably identifiable' with the occupational or commercial use of a motor vehicle as a taxicab, the relation of the gunshot wound to the functional use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle was at most. merely 'but for,' incidental, and fortuitous. It focused on whether the alleged injury was causally related to the 'vehicular use,' 'functional character,' or 'functional use' of a motor vehicle. These terms are intended to distinguish use 'as a motor vehicle' from other possible uses of a vehicle. Our approach here, focusing on transportational function, makes the same distinction and provides a more specific definition for these terms."

The majority then went on to state that certain previous appellate court opinions were inconsistent with the rule enunciated in the case at bar, and therefore, those earlier opinions were declared to be "wrongly decided." Specifically, the court disapproved of the holdings in Koole v Michigan Mutual, 126 Mich App 483 (1983) (Item No. 646); Engwis v Michigan Mutual, 181 Mich App 16 (1989) (Item No. 1311); and Bialochowski v Cross Concrete Pumping Company. 428 Mich 219(1987) (Item No. 1021). The majority was especially critical of the Bialochowski decision, which involved a "dual purpose motor vehicle analysis" and held that an injury arising out of the use of a cement truck pump boom was compensable. In criticizing Bialochowski, the majority stated:

". . .section 3I05's requirement that injuries arise out of the use of a motor vehicle 'as a motor vehicle' clearly distinguishes use 'as a motor vehicle' from other possible uses. Bialochowski eviscerates this distinction by holding that the use of the motor vehicle at issue to pump cement constitutes use 'as a motor vehicle.' Obviously, motor vehicles are designed and used for various purposes as the Bialochowski court noted. In fact, only in the context of various possible uses would a limitation to use 'as a motor vehicle' be necessary. Where the Legislature explicitly limited coverage under §3105 to injuries arising out of a particular use of motor vehicles — use 'as a motor vehicle'— a decision finding coverage for injuries arising out of any other use, e.g., to pump cement, is contrary to the language of the statute. Accordingly, we are convinced that Bialochowski was wrongly decided."

Justice Michael Cavanagh filed a vigorous dissent in which he was joined by Justices Mallett and Kelly. Justice Cavanagh criticized the majority opinion as adding a "transportational use limitation to the statute where the Legislature had inserted no such term." The dissent accused the majority of engaging in judicial legislation. Justice Cavanagh also criticized the majority's contention that previous cases, such as Thornton v Allstate Insurance Company, were consistent with the new rule articulated in the majority opinion. Justice Cavanagh argued that the majority opinion blurred the distinction between causation and use of a vehicle as a motor vehicle. Citing Thornton, Justice Cavanagh stated:

"The important distinction here, which must be emphasized given the confusion evidenced by some of the arguments presented, is that our decision in Thornton was one of causation, not one concerning the presence or use of a motor vehicle 'as a motor vehicle.'... We found benefits to be unavailable, owing to a strained relationship with the driver's use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle In Thornton we found that the robber's bullet was too far removed from the use of a motor vehicle to allow recovery of no-fault benefits. Indeed, the fact that Mr. Thornton was operating a vehicle at that time had little to do with his injury. While we agree that there might be an incidental or fortuitous connection (i.e.. operating a taxicab might make one somewhat more likely to be the victim of an armed robbery), the vehicle was merely the locale of his injury. What injured Mr. Thornton had no connection to his vehicle. Rather, a gunman chose to shoot him, and the fact that Mr. Thornton happened to be driving his vehicle at the time was an insufficient basis for allowing benefits.”

Thus, the dissent argued that the majority opinion confuses two distinctly different issues: whether an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, and whether there is a sufficient causal connection between the use of a motor vehicle and the injury which occurred. As to the former issue, it is sufficient to show that "the vehicle was being used for its intended purpose or, in the case of a multipurpose vehicle, for one of its intended purposes."


Lansing car accident lawyer 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 SinasDramis.com.

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