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Wagner v Michigan Mutual, et at; (COA-PUB, 12/15/1983; RB #693)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 66094; Published  
Judges Cynar, Hood, and Jason; Unanimous; Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 135 Mich App 767; Link to Opinion alt   

Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]

Legislative Purpose and Intent   

In this unanimous per curiam Opinion, a plaintiff who suffered severe burns in an unusual accident while attempting to start his stalled semi-truck was awarded benefits under §3.105(1) of the Statute. The plaintiff’s semi-tractor failed to start after a very cold winter evening. In an effort to start the rig, plaintiff attached jumper cables to a nearby pickup truck and to the semi's battery. In addition, plaintiff placed charcoal in an old tire rim, poured charcoal lighter on the charcoal, lighted the charcoal, and after the flame went out, put the rim with the hot charcoal underneath the oil pan of the semi rig for purposes of heating the oil to make it easier to turn over the engine. A short time later, plaintiff noted that the charcoal had gone cold. He removed the tire rim with the charcoal in it from underneath the truck and applied more starter fluid. At that point, an open flame or spark ignited the fluid in the can causing the bottom of the can to explode and dousing the lower part of plaintiff’s body with burning fluid resulting in severe burns.

The trial court ruled that plaintiff was not entitled to no-fault benefits under §3105(1) of the Act because the plaintiff’s injury did not arise out of "maintenance" of the vehicle and, even if it did, there was an insufficient causal connection between that maintenance and plaintiff’s injuries.
In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals demonstrated no difficulty in concluding that plaintiff’s injuries arose out of his "maintenance" of the semi-tractor rig. While agreeing with defendant that warming an engine in order to start it is not "repair" as that term is commonly understood, the Court held that the term "maintenance" is broader than and covers activity other than repair. In reaching this conclusion, the Court cited the Supreme Court's opinion in Miller v Auto-Owners (item number 431). In referring to Miller, the Court stated, "The [Miller] court's reference to efforts to jump start a car after a cold Michigan night strongly implies that it has not sanctioned a definition of maintenance limited only to repairs The court clearly indicated its reliance on the body of judicial authority which has been construed defining the phrase 'arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use'; in this phrase, maintenance has traditionally been given a liberal construction." The Court went on to say that the actions of plaintiff in attempting to start his vehicle were "more in the nature of servicing it than repairing it" The Court stated that "such servicing fits squarely within the meaning which the Legislature intended the term 'maintenance' to have."

In the second part of its holding, the Court rejected the trial court's conclusion that if plaintiff’s injuries did involve "maintenance" there was an insufficient causal connection between the maintenance and the injury. Citing a long line of prior cases, the Court stated, "We have no trouble concluding that the maintenance of the Kenworth tractor was causally connected with plaintiff’s injuries. The truck was not merely the place at which the explosion causing the injury took place. The fire was a direct result of plaintiff’s attempts to warm the oil pan of his truck engine. This is more than a fortuitous or incidental relationship."

With respect to the "arising out of" issue, the Court also held that plaintiff should not be penalized because safer methods to start his truck might have been used. The Court stated, this approach was rejected by the Legislature when it adopted a no-fault system of motor vehicle insurance. A no-fault system would be considerably less useful if coverage could be denied because of the dangerous manner in which the insured's act (i.e., operation, maintenance or use) was performed.

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