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McKenzie v. Auto Club Insurance Association

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff sued Defendant for PIP benefits under his no-fault insurance contract. Defendant moved for summary disposition. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion and Plaintiff appealed. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and Defendant appealed.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    An injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle “as a motor vehicle” if the injury is closely related tot the transportational function of motor vehicles.

    Facts.

    While on a hunting trip, McKenzie (Plaintiff) and another person slept in a camper/trailer attached to the back of his pickup truck. The camper/trailer was equipped with a propane-fueled, forced-air heater. During the night, carbon monoxide fumes from the heater overcame the two men. The following day, they were transported to an area hospital where they eventually recovered. Plaintiff sued Auto Club Insurance Association (Defendant) for personal injury protection (PIP) benefits under his no-fault insurance contract. Defendant moved for summary disposition, arguing that there was no coverage under the contract because the camper/trailer was not being used “as a motor vehicle” at the time of the injury. The trial court granted Defendant’s motion and Plaintiff appealed. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s judgment and Defendant appealed.

    Issue.

    Whether the determination of whether an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle “as a motor vehicle” turns on whether the injury is closely related to the transportational function of motor vehicles.

    Held.

    Yes. The court of appeals’ ruling is reversed and the case is remanded for an entry of summary disposition in favor of Defendant. An injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle “as a motor vehicle” if the injury is closely related tot the transportational function of motor vehicles.

    Dissent.

    The majority adds a transportational use limitation to the no-fault statute where the legislature has not inserted such term. In the past, no-fault benefits have been extended to situations involving campers/trailers and benefits should be extended in this case. Plaintiff was not injured by some outside force or actor, but rather by a malfunction of the vehicle itself. The vehicle was not merely the locale of the injury, but an integral part of it. The no-fault statutory language used by the legislature is less than clear, but the majority did not possess the power to replace the language with its own.

    Discussion.

    Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s use of the camper/trailer was not “as a motor vehicle” as contemplated by law. If the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, then the court is not permitted to infer otherwise. The language “use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle” suggests that a motor vehicle can be used in various ways. While a motor vehicle can easily be understood to transport someone from one place to another, it is also clear from the phrase that the legislature intended to except those other instances when a motor vehicle is being used for other purposes, such as housing. Thus, it logical to conclude that the phrase “as a motor vehicle” requires a court, in analyzing a no-fault insurance action, to determine whether the motor vehicle was being used for transportation from one place to another. Additionally, prior case law supports the conclusion that the court focused on the transportational function to determine whether injuries arose out of the use of a motor vehicle “as a motor vehicle.” See Turner v. Auto Club Ins. Ass'n,528 N.W.2d 681 (Mich. 1995) (holding that damage to a building by a truck arose out of the use of the truck “as a motor vehicle”); Putkamer v. Transamerica Ins. Corp. of America, 563 N.W.2d 683 (Mich. 1997) (holding that injuries incurred while entering a vehicle with the intent to travel arose out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle); and Winter v. Automobile Club of Michigan, 446 N.W.2d 132 (Mich. 1989) (denying no-fault insurance coverage for injuries sustained when a cement slab fell from a crane attached to a parked tow truck that was not being used “as a motor vehicle” at the time). Obviously, motor vehicles are designed and used for various purposes. However, the focus of the state’s no-fault statute is whether the injury sustained closely relates to the transportational function of a motor vehicle. Here, the requisite nexus between Plaintiff’s injury and the transportational function of the motor vehicle is missing. At the time of the injury, the camper/trailer was parked and being used for housing/sleeping accommodations, not for transportation.


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