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Trierweiler v Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Company; (COA-PUB, 5/17/1996; RB #1855)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 179443; Published 
Judges Holbrook, Taylor, and Nykamp; Unanimous; Opinion by Judge Taylor 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  216 Mich App 653; Link to Opinion alt   


STATUTORY INDEXING:  
Definition of Motor Vehicle (Other Motorized Devices) [§3101(2)(e)] 
Specific Exclusions from Motor Vehicle Definition [§3101(2)(e)]

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Underinsured Motorist Coverage in General 
Underinsured Motorist Coverage: Exclusions from Underinsured Motorist Benefits 
Private Contract (Meaning and Intent)   


CASE SUMMARY:  
This unanimous published Opinion by Judge Taylor deals with a claim for underinsured motorist benefits. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and enforced an exclusion in plaintiffs insurance policy that excluded underinsured motorist benefits if plaintiff was occupying a "land motor vehicle" owned by a family member that was not specifically insured for such coverage on the declaration sheet In this case, the plaintiff was the teenage son of a farmer and was riding on a farm tractor owned and operated by his father on a public roadway. The farm tractor was struck from the rear by the intoxicated driver of a motor vehicle. Plaintiff recovered policy limits from the intoxicated tortfeasor but this recovery was not adequate to fully compensate plaintiff for his injuries.  

Plaintiff contended that the farm tractor should not be considered to be a "land motor vehicle" under the terms of this particular policy. The phrase "land motor vehicle" was not defined anywhere in the policy. Section 3101(2)(e)of the no-fault act defines a motor vehicle so as to specifically exclude farm tractors. The first half of plaintiffs policy contained the mandatory no-fault coverages, and incorporated the statutory definition of motor vehicle. The second half of the policy, which contained the underinsured motorist section, used the phrase "land motor vehicle" but did not define it. Plaintiff contended that a farm tractor cannot be a "land motor vehicle" if it is not a "motor vehicle." In the first half of this policy, the farm tractor was clearly not a "motor vehicle" and there was no contrary definition in the underinsured motorist section. Therefore, plaintiff argued that the definition of motor vehicle set forth in the first half of the policy should control the definition of land motor vehicle in the second half of the policy, where there is no contrary meaning expressed. 

The trial court agreed with plaintiff, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The court held that there was no ambiguity in the policy, and that "land motor vehicle" is a different phrase than motor vehicle, and therefore, it must mean something different. The court stated, "As motor vehicle in the no-fault act is, by definition, a vehicle designed for use on public roads, the use of a vehicle as an adjective modifying motor vehicle in the underinsurance section of the policy must, by a plain reading, mean the vehicle anticipated was more than a vehicle that would travel only on roads. While most motor vehicles travel only on roads, farm tractors routinely travel on land that is not a highway. It is therefore entirely appropriate under principles of contract interpretation, to consider a tractor a 'land motor vehicle' even though a farm tractor is not an 'auto' under the no-fault portion of the insurance policy."  


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 SinasDramis.com.

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