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Citizens Insurance Company of America v State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company; (COA-UNP, 8/23/1996; RB #1873)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 179333; Unpublished  
Judges McDonald, Markman, and Johnson; 2-1 (with Judge Markman Dissenting); Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt  


STATUTORY INDEXING:  
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]  
General Rule of Priority [§3114(1)]  
General / Miscellaneous [§3115]

TOPICAL INDEXING:  
Not Applicable   


CASE SUMMARY:   
In this unpublished 2-1 per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court and held that no-fault PIP benefits were payable to a man who sustained severe burns while replacing a fuel filter on an automobile. The incident occurred when the fuel filter was being removed and gasoline sprayed out of the pressurized gas tank and was ignited by a nearby kerosene heater. The incident occurred in a garage in the middle of December. The heater was approximately three feet from the front tire of the vehicle, and was being used to heat the garage so that the maintenance operation could be performed.  

The trial court held that, although the man was unquestionably "maintaining" the automobile when the incident occurred, there was an insufficient nexus between the kerosene heater and the maintenance activities to justify payment of no-fault PIP benefits under the statute.  

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that there was a sufficient causal relationship between the maintenance of the vehicle and the fire. The court noted that the victim was doused with gasoline as he was attempting to change the fuel filter, and that the kerosene heater was located very close to the vehicle and was operating for the specific purpose of heating the garage in order to permit the maintenance operation to occur. This created, what the court characterized as a "clear causal relationship between [the victim's] injuries and his maintenance of the Honda. We also believe there was a close and direct connection between the maintenance of the vehicle and the source of the ignition."  

In reaching this conclusion, the majority distinguished two earlier Court of Appeals decisions in Central Mutual Insurance Company v Walter (Item No. 839) and Auto Owners Insurance Company v Citizens Insurance Company (Item No. 1481). These cases involved claims for property protection insurance benefits, not PIP benefits. Both cases involved fires stemming from gasoline or fumes coming into contact with hot water heaters. In distinguishing these cases, the majority in the case at bar stated, "In both cases the hot water heaters were 'spacially and conceptually removed' from the repair work being performed on the automobiles." In discussing the necessary causal relationship that must exist between an injury and the maintenance of a vehicle, the court expressed the following concept:

"An injury need not be caused directly by the motor vehicle itself in order for an injury to arise out of the maintenance of a vehicle. Indeed, 'the term arise out of does not require as strict a showing of causation as does the concept of proximate cause. However, the relationship between the injuries and the maintenance must be more than incidental, fortuitous or but for. There must be a causal relationship between the injury and the maintenance."

The court also held that under the priority provisions of §3114(1) and §3115(1) liability for payment of no-fault PIP benefits rested with the insurer of the vehicle that was being maintained. This was because die injured person did not have a no-fault policy, nor did he reside in a household where a relative was insured. Therefore, PIP benefits were payable under the provisions of §3115(1) from the insurer of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.   

Judge Markman dissented. Citing Central Mutual Insurance Company v Walter and Auto Owners Insurance Company v Citizens.Insurance Company, he believed there was an insufficient causal connection between maintenance of the vehicle and the ignition of the kerosene fumes. Judge Markman disagreed with the attempt to distinguish this case from these two earlier Court of Appeals decisions and further felt that the proximity of the kerosene heater to the automobile "does not transform the essential relationship — or lack of a relationship — between the source of the injury and the maintenance of the automobile."


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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