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Shinabarger v Citizens Mutual; (COA-PUB, 5/22/1979; RB #204)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 78-843; Published  
Judges Maher, Bashara, and Brennan; Unanimous; Opinion by Judge Maher   
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 90 Mich App 307; Link to Opinion alt    

Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]
Exclusion for Vehicles Considered Parked [§3106(1)]
Exception for Loading / Unloading [§3106(1)(b)]
Causal Connection Requirement [§3106]
General Rule of Priority [§3114(1)]
Exception for Occupants [§3114(4)]

Legislative Purpose and Intent   

This lengthy Opinion by Judge Maher writing for a unanimous Court, dealt with two issues under the no-fault act In this case, plaintiff’s decedent and several friends were engaged in "shining" deer using an automobile. Plaintiff’s decedent, who was driving the car, stopped momentarily to get out and shoot at an animal. When he sought to reenter the vehicle, he handed the shotgun to a person sitting in the right front seat. At some point, either during the process of handing the gun or immediately thereafter, the shotgun accidentally discharged, fatally wounding plaintiff’s decedent.

The first issue was a priority question involving a determination as to which no-fault insurer was primarily responsible for benefits. The Court held that §3114(1) of the statute requires that any person sustaining accidental bodily injury in connection with the use of an automobile must seek benefits first from his own insurer, and then from the insurers of his spouse, or of another relative domiciled in the same household. The Court held that §3114(4) establishes priorities as among insurers of owners and operators of vehicles involved in the accident, only where no other policy may be found which covers an insured person. In other words, §3114(4) applies only as a last resort where neither the injured person, nor his spouse, nor a relative of either domiciled in the same household has purchased a no-fault automobile insurance policy. The Court's holding on this priority question is consistent with the holdings in Porter (item number 53), Piersante (item number 167), and Esquivel (item number 199).

The second issue presented more difficult problems. The Court analyzed the scope of no-fault coverage and what must be shown in order for an injury to be considered as "arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle." The relevant sections of the statute pertaining to the scope of coverage are §3105 and §3106.

The Court held that pursuant to these coverage sections, the phrase "arising out of the... use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicles requires that the insured person establish a causal connection between the use of the motor vehicle and the injury. In so ruling, the Court referred to numerous insurance policy cases dealing with the interpretation of a similar phrase in insurance contracts. The Court quoted a Louisiana appellate court decision which stated that the question to be answered is whether the injury originated from, had its origin in, grew out of, or flowed from the use of the vehicle." The Court stated that where the injury is entirely the result of an independent cause and no way related to the use of the vehicle, the fact that the vehicle is the site of the injury will not suffice to bring it within no-fault coverage.

In analyzing the scope of no-fault coverage as it relates to the arising out of phrase, the Court further analyzed the interrelationship between §3105 and §3106 of the statute. The Court noted that the parked vehicle provisions of §3106 do not abrogate the need for a causal connection between the automobile and the injury. On the contrary, §3106 establishes only minimum criteria for accidents involving parked vehicles. In this way, the Court viewed §3106 as establishing a thresholds for parked vehicle accidents. However, even after the threshold of §3106 is crossed, the plaintiff must still establish that the injury arose out of the "ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle" as required by §3105.

The Court acknowledged that the loading of a motor vehicle is "the use of a motor vehicle." Nevertheless, there must still be a causal connection between the loading and the injury.

Based on the Court's analysis, it remanded the case back to the Circuit Court due to the fact that the record did not clearly reveal whether the accident occurred during the loading process and, if it did, whether there was a causal connection between the loading process and the injury. Due to the unclear record on this point, the trial judge erred in granting summary judgment as a matter of law in favor of plaintiff on the basis of the loading provision of §3106.

[Author's Comment: It appears that the analysis employed by the Shinabarger panel is contrary to the analysis utilized in the McPherson decision (item number 197). In McPherson, the majority indicated that there need not be a causal nexus between the automobile and the injury. Rather, it is sufficient if the vehicle provides the occasion for the injury.]

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