Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #318762; Unpublished
Judges Beckering, Jansen, and Boonstra; 2-1 (Judge Boonstra concurring); Non-unanimous
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion Link to Concurrence
In this 2-1 unpublished per curiam Opinion (with Judge Boonstra concurring) involving a dispute over which insurer was liable for paying benefits to an injured semi-truck driver, the Court of Appeals held the truck driver’s personal no-fault insurer was obligated to pay PIP benefits, because the driver was not an “owner” of the semi-truck that he was operating at the time of the accident within the meaning of MCL 500.3101(2)(h)(i).
Plaintiff, an independent contractor and commercial truck driver, was injured while driving a semi-truck that was provided to him by Sam Forrest & Sons. The truck was insured by defendant Great West Casualty Company and was registered and titled in the name of Sam Forrest. Plaintiff also owned two personal vehicles that were insured by defendant Secura Insurance Company. After plaintiff brought this action for no-fault benefits against Secura and Great West Casualty, the insurers disputed which was responsible for paying benefits. The trial court ruled that Secura had to pay. On appeal, Secura argued that because plaintiff had used the semi-truck for more than 30 days, he was an “owner” pursuant to §3101(2)(h)(i), thereby making Great West Casualty liable for benefits.
In affirming the trial court’s decision, the Court of Appeals noted that it was not considering whether plaintiff was “self-employed, an employee of Forrest, or an independent contractor,” and also was not considering “any other issue regarding the applicability of MCL 500.3114(3).”
The Court of Appeals then determined that priority for payment of benefits turned on whether plaintiff was considered an “owner” of the semi-truck. After noting that plaintiff was not a title owner, was not a registrant of the vehicle, and did not have a sufficient possessory or control interest in the vehicle in a manner traditionally consistent with ownership, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff was not an “owner” of the truck he was driving at the time of the accident.
In reaching the conclusion that plaintiff was not an owner of the truck, the Court of Appeals relied on the concepts of ownership set forth in four prior published decisions:
• Ardt v Titan Ins Co, 233 Mich App 685 (1999).
• Kessel v Rahn, 244 Mich App 353 (2001).
• Chop v Zielinski, 244 Mich App 677 (2001).
• Detroit Medical Center v Titan Ins Co, 284 Mich App 490 (2009).
In holding that plaintiff’s personal no-fault insurer was responsible for benefits, the Court of Appeals relied on Celina Mut Ins Co v Lake States Ins Co, 452 Mich 84 (1996), for the proposition that:
“under MCL 500.3114(3), a self-employed person who is injured in a motor-vehicle accident while operating a vehicle owned by his business recovers benefits from the insurer of the business vehicle, not the insurer of his personal vehicles.”
In this regard, the Court of Appeals did not elaborate on its reasoning, and found that the absence of ownership was dispositive in favor of Great West, and that Secura was liable for benefits.
Judge Boonstra, in a separate concurring opinion, said that under §3114(3), plaintiff was an employee and not an independent contractor:
“[I]t is implicit in the statutory language that the party ‘furnishing’ the vehicle and the ‘employer’ are one and the same. Here, the ‘employer’ did not ‘furnish the vehicle.’ Moreover, Secura’s reading of the statute would render nugatory its requirement that the person be an ‘employee,’ because the same outcome would obtain even if the person were an ‘independent contractor.’ … I would therefore reject Secura’s strained interpretation of the statutory language.”