Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 98820; Published
Opinion by Justice Riley; 6-1(with Justice Levin, Dissenting)
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 449 Mich 193; Link to Opinion
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]
Legislative Purpose and Intent
In this 6-1 Opinion by Justice Riley, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and held that personal injury inflicted during the process of a "carjacking" did not arise out of the use of that vehicle as a motor vehicle, and therefore, plaintiffs injuries were not compensable under the no-fault act.
Plaintiff was about to get into his parked car when he noticed two men seated in the rear of the car. The men forced plaintiff at gun point to drive to a location a mile away. They then ordered him to exit the car. As he was exiting the car, one of the men hit the plaintiff in the face and threw him to the ground. The men took plaintiffs car keys, his wallet and his car. Plaintiff claimed compensation for the injuries he received during the course of this carjacking. Farmers Insurance denied plaintiffs claim for no-fault benefits on the grounds that the injuries did not constitute "accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle" within the meaning of §3105(1) of the no-fault act. The Court of Appeals held that plaintiff was entitled to no-fault benefits because the physical assault "only occurs because of the assailants' wish to take possession of the vehicle. Unfortunately, such incidents are nowadays within the ordinary risks of driving a motor vehicle."
In reversing the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court stated that it was persuaded that the Court of Appeals reached the wrong conclusion. Plaintiffs injuries arose out of the blows inflicted on him by a car jacker. Hence, plaintiff suffered a personal physical attack. Generally, such an attack is not compensable. In reviewing several prior decisions on this issue, the court relied primarily on its decision in Thornton v Allstate Insurance Company, 425 Mich 643 (1986), which denied benefits to a taxicab driver who was shot by a customer. The court held that plaintiffs injuries in the present case did not arise out of the use of his vehicle as a motor vehicle. The car jacker simply struck plaintiff. Hence, plaintiffs vehicle was at best the situs of the injury, which is not a sufficient condition to establish the requisite causal connection between the injury and the vehicle.
The court also ruled that it is not proper to use the "intent of the assailant" in order to create the necessary causal connection. Thus, it did not matter that the assailants were only wishing to take the possession of the vehicle, since the proper focus is upon the relationship between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, not on the intent of the assailant In the instant case, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs injuries did not arise out of the use of his vehicle as a motor vehicle. Thus, the Court of Appeals decision finding entitlement to benefits was reversed.
In footnote 3 of its decision, the Supreme Court recognized that its citation of two Court of Appeals decisions, Saunders v DAIIE, 123 Mich App 570 (1983) and Mann v DAIIE, 111 Mich App 637 (1981) in Thornton, supra, had created some confusion regarding whether assaults are part of "the normal risk" of motoring. The court, however, stated that it was prepared to examine cases employing this methodology if and when it is presented with a case that raises the issue squarely.
The Supreme Court also addressed defendant's claim that plaintiffs suit was "frivolous" within the meaning of MCR 2.114(f), thus entitling it to costs. The Supreme Court noted that there has been much debate over the years regarding the scope of the phrase "arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle," as is evidenced by the wealth of case law on this topic. Consequently, the court held that plaintiffs claim was not frivolous and defendant was properly denied costs and attorney fees.
In his dissent, Justice Levin argued that the no-fault act requires only that there be an "accidental bodily injury" not a traffic accident bodily injury. In this case, Justice Levin argued that the purpose in assaulting plaintiff is reflected by what the car jacker did, i.e., stealing the vehicle. Plaintiff was assaulted and injured because he was a motorist using and in possession of a motor vehicle, and his injuries were a result of his using the vehicle. Although carjacking is an unusual event, carjackings do occur during the normal use of a motor vehicle. Justice Levin would therefore hold that plaintiff is entitled to no-fault benefits.