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A Better Partnership
February 25, 2017

Back off the front-end loader: it is exempt from registration requirements under Michigan’s no-fault act

A front-end loader that has to travel about a quarter of a mile along a public road between work sites is exempt from the no-fault act’s registration and insurance requirements, said the Michigan Court of Appeals in Bergman v. Cotanche, No. 330438.  The vehicle was neither designed for nor used for the transport of people or property, and its travel over public roads was incidental to its main purpose—to plow snow.  The front-end loader thus fell under the statutory exemption for “special mobile equipment.”
On December 12, 2012, defendant Bryce Cotanche (“Cotanche”) was operating a front-end loader to plow snow in the course of his employment with defendant Boyne USA, Inc. (“Boyne”).  The front-end loader was neither registered with the State of Michigan nor insured under a no-fault insurance policy.  Cotanche had to travel approximately one quarter of a mile along a public road in between his plowing sites.  Plaintiff Donald Bergman (“Bergman”) was driving along that road, and the two vehicles collided.  Bergman sued Cotanche and Boyne, seeking recovery under the no-fault act for personal protection benefits.  The trial court concluded that the front-end loader’s travel along the public highway was more than incidental, subjecting it to the registration and insurance requirements of the no-fault act.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, holding that the front-end loader met the definition of “special mobile equipment.”  For a vehicle to qualify as special mobile equipment, it must be (1) either not designed or not used primarily for the transportation of persons or property, and (2) incidentally operated or moved over the highway.   The key to the Court’s analysis was the primary purpose of the equipment.  It also considered the frequency and amount the vehicle traverses over the highways.  Because the front-end loader was used primarily to plow snow on Boyne’s facilities, and traveled only about a quarter of a mile along a public road between two of the sites (and only during the winter months), the court ruled such highway travel to be incidental to its plowing tasks. The Court reversed the trial court’s decision and remanded for proceedings consistent with its opinion.

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