may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Debra Ann Caron,
Illinois Farmers Insurance, Inc.,
an Illinois Corporation,
Filed January 12, 1999
Hennepin County District Court
File No. 973269
Wilbur W. Fluegel, Wentzel & Fluegel, 701 Fourth Avenue South, Suite 1200, Minneapolis, MN 55415-1815 (for appellant)
Daniel A. Beckman, Gislason, Dosland, Hunter & Malecki, P.L.L.P., P.O. Box 5297, Minnetonka, MN 55343-2297 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Short, Judge, and Shumaker, Judge.
Appellant challenges the district court's ruling that she was not entitled to third-party benefits under the Minnesota No-Fault Act because she was a "driver or other occupant" of her uninsured vehicle at the time of an accident. We affirm.
Appellant, having rear-ended another vehicle, was standing between the two vehicles, with her back to her automobile when a vehicle insured by respondent Illinois Farmers Insurance, Inc. struck the rear of appellant's car. The impact forced appellant's automobile into the other stopped vehicle crushing appellant's legs between the two vehicles. Appellant's vehicle was uninsured.
Respondent paid appellant its liability policy limits but subsequently denied appellant's request for no-fault coverage. The district court upheld respondent's denial of no-fault benefits under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 4(c) (1996), finding appellant was a "driver or other occupant of an involved motor vehicle" at the time of the accident.
"Insurance coverage issues are questions of law for the court." State Farm Ins. Cos. v. Seefeld, 481 N.W.2d 62, 64 (Minn. 1992). The construction of a statute is a question of law fully reviewable by an appellate court. Sullivan v. City of Minneapolis, 570 N.W.2d 8, 9 (Minn. 1992). Therefore, this court reviews the issue of this case de novo.
Appellant, who was uninsured, claims basic no-fault economic loss benefits under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 4(c), arguing that because she was out of her car she was not "the driver or other occupant of an involved motor vehicle" at the time of the accident.
Because the legislature did not provide a definition of "driver or other occupant" in the No-Fault Act, the meaning and application of "driver or other occupant" must be construed from other sources. The district court relied on the analysis in Balderrama v. Milbank Mut. Ins. Co., 324 N.W.2d 355 (Minn. 1982). In both Balderrama and this case uninsured owners of uninsured vehicles were injured while they were near their vehicles. In both cases, the injured parties claimed they were not a "driver or other occupant" of their vehicles because they were outside of their vehicles. See Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 4(c).
The Balderrama court looked to the legislative presumptions found in Minn. Stat. § 645.16 (1980) and the underlying principle of the priorities provision found in the Uniform Motor Vehicle Accident Reparations Act, and concluded that the claimant was barred from receiving benefits under section 65B.47, subdivision 4(c), because the claimant was an uninsured driver driving an uninsured vehicle. The court specifically addressed the issue of persons who fail to carry automobile insurance:
The legislature is not charitable to uninsured persons driving uninsured vehicles. For the no-fault system to work, persons must contribute premiums to the insurance pool; otherwise, responsible persons carrying insurance become the insurers of those unwilling to pay the true costs involved in establishing a viable no-fault insurance system.
Balderrama, 324 N.W.2d at 358. The court further noted that "[t]o attain recovery, appellant needs to circumvent the stringent statutory track tailored for uninsured motorists driving uninsured vehicles" by attempting to latch "onto his position outside the automobile at the time of the accident--disclaiming his status as driver * * *." Balderrama, 324 N.W.2d at 358. In ruling against the claimant the supreme court concluded that subdivision 4(c) was not intended to be "a catch-all provision, opening a last resort and deep pocket for those avoiding their own responsibilities in operating motor vehicles." Id.
Appellant contends the district court erred in relying on Balderrama and that instead this case is controlled by Allied Mut. Ins. Co. v. Western Nat'l Mut. Ins. Co., 552 N.W.2d 561 (Minn. 1996). Appellant argues that the supreme court's holding in Allied supports her position that she was not a "driver or occupant" by rejecting the line of cases that determined occupancy of a motor vehicle by looking to the "reasonable geographic perimeter" around a vehicle. The court explained:
[T]he application of such a measure to determine occupancy calls to mind the equity that depended on the length of the chancellor's foot. Rather than treating the term "occupy" or "occupying" as an ambiguity inviting creative definition, we are of the opinion that we must look first to the ordinary and commonly accepted meaning of "occupy"--to take possession of a place or to be resident or established in a place.
Id. at 563.
We reject appellant's contention that Allied is controlling. Allied dealt with very different facts and a different statute. The Allied court did not address the definition of "driver or other occupant," but instead addressed whether an injured person was "occupying a motor vehicle" under a different section of the No-Fault Act, Minn. Stat. § 65B.49, subd. 3a(5) (Supp. 1989). Thus, the Allied court did not overrule, or even address, the holding in Balderrama.
Further, the Allied court did not abandon the Balderrama approach to analyzing occupancy which involved looking at the continuing "relationship" between claimants and their own vehicles. 552 N.W.2d at 563. Here, not only was appellant near her own vehicle at the time of the accident, her injury was directly caused when she was struck by her own vehicle, thus making it an "involved vehicle" as required for exclusion of no-fault benefits under Minn. Stat. § 65B.47, subd. 4(c).
We conclude that Balderrama is controlling. Minnesota courts have not abandoned the legislature's unfavorable view towards uninsured drivers. Section 65B.47, subdivision 4(c), was designed directly for pedestrians and bystanders. Balderrama, 324 N.W.2d at 358. Because appellant has not established that she was a pedestrian or that the Allied holding changes her status as a "driver" at the time of the accident, we conclude the district court properly denied appellant's claim for no-fault benefits.