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Shellenberger v Insurance Company of North America; (COA-PUB, 3/19/1990; RB #1351)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 109112; Published  
Judges Holbrook, Jr., Sawyer, and Neff; 2-1 (with Judge Neff, Dissenting)  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  182 Mich App 601; Link to Opinion alt   

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

Not Applicable   

In this 2-1 Opinion by Judge Holbrook, (Judge Neff dissenting), the Court of Appeals affirmed denial of no-fault benefits to a truck driver who ruptured a lumbar disc while moving a briefcase in the interior of his truck cab. The Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs injury did not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle within the meaning of §3105(1).  

Plaintiff, a truck driver, started the truck engine in preparation for a delivery. While waiting for the engine oil pressure to build up, he moved a briefcase containing required transportation documents. Plaintiff claimed that the interior space of the cab was confined because, in part, of the engine cover which also provided a convenient flat spot to place the briefcase during plaintiff’s trip. In the process of moving the briefcase, plaintiff’s injury occurred.  

The majority found the decision of Thornton v Allstate Insurance Company, 425 Mich 643 (1986) to be controlling. In that case, the Supreme Court held that there was no-fault coverage "only where the causal connection between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle is more than incidental, fortuitous, or 'but for.'" The court in Thornton, supra, had denied no-fault benefits where plaintiff suffered gunshot inflicted injuries while inside a taxicab.  

In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals rejected plaintiff’s argument that the configuration of the truck's interior occasioned his original placement of the briefcase and the subsequent need to move the briefcase, thereby making the truck cab more than the mere fortuitous location of the injury. Although it may have been necessary for plaintiff to carry the briefcase in fulfillment of his job duties, it does not follow that those duties were congruent with the operation or use of the truck as a motor vehicle. Moving the briefcase by reason of the configuration of the interior of the truck cannot be said to result from some facet particular to the normal functioning of a motor vehicle. The need to make similar movements in order to reach for a briefcase routinely occur in offices, airports, homes, conference rooms, courtrooms, etc. where no-fault insurance does not attach.  

In her dissent, Judge Neff would have held that there was a sufficient causal nexus between the use of the motor vehicle and the injury. Judge Neff would find, like the majority in Perryman v Citizens Insurance Company, 156 Mich App 3S9 (1986), that the truck cab was one of the causes contributing to plaintiff’s injury and, therefore, was more than the mere situs of the injury. In Perryman, supra, the court recognized that the limited confines of a motor vehicle contributed to the accidental discharge of the shotgun which injured the plaintiff in that case. Further, Judge Neff found Thornton, supra, distinguishable, in that in Thornton it could truly be said that the motor vehicle was merely the place where the plaintiff was injured by the criminal intent of a third party who shot him.  

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