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A Better Partnership
September 14, 2015

COA holds truck engaged in towing objects is being used as a “motor vehicle” within meaning of Michigan No-Fault Act

In Walega v. Walega, No. 321721, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered whether an individual injured while towing a safe behind his truck by connecting a rope to the truck’s trailer hitch is entitled to no-fault benefits.  The Court held that because the truck was being used to transport an item, and this use was consistent with the vehicle’s inherent purpose, the injured man was entitled to no-fault personal injury protection (“PIP”) benefits.
 
Charles Walega and his wife Kathleen were attempting to move a 1500 pound gun safe from their garage when the safe landed on Charles leg, crushing it and requiring amputation.  There was some dispute as to whether the safe fell onto Charles’ leg from where it was positioned in the bed of the truck, or whether it was being pulled by a rope from the truck’s trailer hitch when it hit uneven concrete and tipped over onto Charles’ leg.  After the injury occurred, Charles sought PIP benefits from his auto insurer, Farm Bureau Insurance Company.  Farm Bureau argued that if the injury occurred before the safe was loaded onto the truck bed, it did not believe Mr. Walega would be entitled to benefits.  Farm Bureau denied the claim and Walega brought suit.
 
The trial court found that even if the injury had occurred before the safe had been loaded into the vehicle, the truck was still engaged in the function of transporting a heavy object, which is the normal use of a truck.  Because of this, the court found that under either theory of how the injury occurred, the injury ultimately arose out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle as required by the Michigan No-Fault Act and awarded summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.  The Court of Appeals affirmed holding that it is normal and foreseeable to use a truck, attached with a trailer hitch, to move heavy objects and that accordingly, plaintiff was entitled to no-fault benefits.

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