IN COURT OF APPEALS
Auto-Owners Insurance Company,
Great West Casualty,
Filed May 10, 2005
Reversed and remanded
Wright County District Court
File No. C0-03-1196
Thomas E. Emmer, Teresa A. Anderson, Emmer & Associates, P.A., 1800 Pioneer Creek Center, P.O. Box 39, Maple Plain, MN 55359 (for respondent)
Michael W. McNee, Tamara L. Novotny, Cousineau, McGuire
& Anderson, 600
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Dietzen, Judge.
S Y L L A B U S
If an insured is injured in an accident involving a stalled vehicle loaded on top of an automobile-transport trailer, the injury resulted from the “maintenance or use” of the stalled vehicle, and the insurer of the stalled vehicle is responsible for payment of no-fault insurance benefits to the insured under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 3 (2000).
O P I N I O N
In this no-fault insurance benefits proceeding, appellant challenges the district court’s decision awarding summary judgment to respondent. The district court concluded that the insured’s injury arose out of the “maintenance or use” of an automobile-transport trailer insured by appellant, and not out of the “maintenance or use” of a stalled vehicle insured by respondent, which was loaded on top of the trailer. Because we conclude that the injury arose out of the “maintenance or use” of the stalled vehicle, and not the trailer, we reverse and remand.
On February 9, 2001, David Martin, a driver for Crossman Auto Transport, Inc., drove an automobile-transport trailer loaded with used vehicles to Gessell Auto Sales, owned by Jerome Gessell. After parking the trailer on an adjacent street, Martin informed Gessell that one of the vehicles was stalled on the top deck of the trailer near the front of the cab. Martin asked Gessell for assistance in manually unloading the stalled vehicle from the trailer so it could be jump-started on the street. Gessell and a friend climbed up the trailer’s ladder to the stalled vehicle while Martin sat inside the stalled vehicle to release the brake. Gessell and the friend decided to pull back on the stalled vehicle’s fender because there was no room on the trailer to push the stalled vehicle from the front. Gessell placed one foot on the trailer’s wheel-track and one foot on a beam. When Gessell and the friend pulled on the stalled vehicle’s fender, it rolled back quickly and Gessell jumped out of the way to avoid a collision. As Gessell moved out of the stalled vehicle’s path, his left foot slipped between two beams on the trailer, causing him to become wedged in between the beams, which seriously injured his left leg.
The accident was reported to appellant Great West Casualty Company, the insurer of the automobile-transport trailer, and respondent Auto Owners Insurance Company, the insurer of Gessell and his business vehicles, including the stalled vehicle. In November 2002, respondent brought a complaint for declaratory judgment, alleging that it was not responsible for the payment of no-fault benefits. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court granted respondent’s motion, finding that Gessell’s injuries “arose out of the maintenance and use” of the automobile-transport trailer insured by appellant. Specifically, the district court held that (1) the trailer was an “active accessory” in causing Gessell’s injury; (2) the injury “occurred as a reasonable consequence” of the use of the trailer; and (3) the accident resulted from the use of the trailer for transportation purposes. This appeal follows.
Did the district court err in granting summary judgment for respondent by concluding that the injury resulted from the “maintenance or use” of the trailer?
“On an appeal from summary judgment, we ask
two questions: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and
(2) whether the lower court erred in [its] application of the law.” State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d
2, 4 (
The parties acknowledge
that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute, and that the only
issue is how
Determining whether an injury occurred from
the “maintenance or use” of a vehicle depends upon the facts presented.
The Minnesota Supreme Court has established a
three-part test to determine when an injury occurred from the “maintenance or
use” of a vehicle. Cont’l W. Ins. Co.
v. Klug,415 N.W.2d 876, 877-78 (
The district court applied the Klug test to the facts of this dispute and held that appellant, the insurer of the automobile-transport trailer, was responsible for payment of no-fault benefits because the trailer was an “active accessory” in causing Gessell’s injury. In other words,the district court reasoned that at the time of the injury, Gessell was performing a transaction essential to the use of the trailer—unloading a vehicle—so the element of causation was met. See Kern v. Auto Owners Ins. Co., 526 N.W.2d 409, 411 (Minn. App. 1995) (concluding truck was “active accessory” to pedestrian’s injury because truck “was designed specifically to accommodate and transport materials such as the building materials involved. Put another way, the accident happened, not in a unique or bizarre way, but in a way utilizing the specific design and usage of a pickup truck.”).
Under the first prong of the Klug test,
the automobile-transport trailer was the mere situs for Gessell’s injury
because the actual cause of his injury arose out of the “maintenance or use” of
the stalled vehicle. See
the first prong supports our determination.
In another case, the supreme court denied
no-fault benefits to an insured who was injured while operating a backhoe that
was mounted on the back of a truck. Waldbillig
v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 321 N.W.2d 49, 53 (
that this situation is more like a case where an insured pedestrian sought
no-fault benefits when she was struck by siding that blew out of a nearby
truck. See Kern, 526
N.W.2d at 410-11. In Kern,this
court determined that the truck was an “active accessory” to the injury because
the injury occurred in a method that utilized “the specific design and usage”
of the truck.
In a consolidated
case decided before Klug, the supreme court allowed no-fault benefits to
an insured who was injured when a trailer’s door cable snapped.
Turning to the second prong of the Klug test, there was no act of independent significance that broke the causal chain between the stalled vehicle and Gessell’s injury. In other words, the injury “occurred as a reasonable consequence” of the plan to pull the stalled vehicle off the trailer. Under the third prong, the stalled vehicle was being used for transportation purposes at the time of the injury. See Kemmerer, 513 N.W.2d at 843 (concluding that no-fault benefits must be paid when truck-topper door injured insured while camping because at time of injury, truck was being used for transportation purposes since it was about to be moved to another campsite). Here, the possibility of the vehicle stalling was clearly a risk associated with motoring. See id. (commenting that policy behind awarding no-fault benefits is to restrict “coverage to risks associated with motoring”). Attempting to move the stalled vehicle off the trailer was a risk integral to the nature of the use of the stalled vehicle. Therefore, because the three-part Klug test applies to the stalled vehicle, Gessell’s injury occurred from the “maintenance or use” of the stalled vehicle, not the automobile-transport trailer, and the district court erred by granting respondent’s motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, respondent is responsible for payment of Gessell’s no-fault benefits under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 3.
Because we conclude that Gessell’s injuries arose out of the “maintenance or use” of the stalled vehicle under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 3 (2000), the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of respondent is reversed. We reverse and remand for an order in accord with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
 State law at the time of the accident provided that all persons injured from the “maintenance or use of a motor vehicle” had a right to economic-loss benefits. Minn. Stat. § 65B.46, subd. 1 (2000). To be eligible for benefits, a motor vehicle must be maintained or used “as a vehicle, including . . . occupying, entering into, and alighting from it.” Minn. Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 3 (2000).