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Central Mutual Ins Co v Walter; (COA-PUB, 6/3/1985; RB #839)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 70995; Published  
Judges MacKenzie, Beasley and Kirwan; Unanimous  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 143 Mich App 332; Link to Opinion alt  

Nature and Scope of PPI Benefits (Property Damage and Loss of Use) [§3121(1)]

Garage Keeper’s Liability Act (MCL 256.541, et seq.)   

This unanimous Opinion by Judge MacKenzie dealt with a property damage claim arising out of a service station fire. The fire occurred when fuel leaking from a 1966 Cadillac that had been brought into the gas station for repairs spread onto the floor and was ignited by the open flame of a hot water heater that was located in the service bay. The court rendered several holdings. First, the court held that the no-fault insurer of the Cadillac was not obligated to pay property protection insurance benefits under§3121 for damage to the service station. The court reasoned that the fire did not "arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle" within the meaning of §3121 since the source of ignition of (the hot water heater) was unrelated to the direct maintenance of the Cadillac. Thus, the damage was not foreseeably identifiable with the normal maintenance of the vehicle. The court distinguished this case from other "trouble light" cases where service station fires were caused by fuel being ignited by a mechanic's trouble light The court stated, "In cases where fuel from a vehicle was ignited by a mechanic's trouble light, there was a close and direct connection between the vehicle being maintained and the source of ignition. In the case at bar, however, there was no connection; the source of ignition was a water heater pilot light spatially and conceptually removed from the repair work being performed on the automobile."

Second, the court held that the no-fault act did not abolish tort liability arising out of this service station fire. Relying upon the Supreme Court's decision in Citizens v Tuttle (Item No. 429), the court held that this fire resulted from the placement of a water heater with an open flame in the service bay area of a gas heater with an open flame in the service bay area of a gas station. This was a "premises hazard unrelated to the normal maintenance and repair of motor vehicles." It was action attributable to a nonmotorist tortfeasor. Accordingly, the no-fault act's abolition of tort liability did not apply.

Finally, the court held that the garage keeper's liability act did not apply to this case. The court stated, "The garage keeper's liability act is directed toward damage to motor vehicles and is irrelevant where the claim is for damage to service station premises."

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