Benike v. Dairyland Ins. Co., C5-94-330

Citation520 N.W.2d 465
Decision Date16 August 1994
Docket NumberNo. C5-94-330,C5-94-330
PartiesAlton W. BENIKE, Respondent, v. DAIRYLAND INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellant.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota

Syllabus by the Court

Where an automobile strikes a utility pole and a person is injured by the downed power lines while providing assistance shortly after the accident, the injuries arise out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle.

Sharon L. Van Dyck, Schwebel, Goetz, Sieben & Moskal, P.A., Minneapolis, for respondent.

James M. Lehman, Victor E. Lund, Mahoney, Dougherty and Mahoney, P.A., Minneapolis, for appellant.

Considered and decided by KALITOWSKI, P.J., and HUSPENI and AMUNDSON, JJ.

OPINION

KALITOWSKI, Judge.

Appellant Dairyland Insurance Company (Dairyland) contends the district court erred in concluding that respondent Alton W. Benike's injuries arose out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle.

FACTS

On October 5, 1991, Scott Ohm lost control of his car while traveling on a county road and went into a ditch. The car struck and broke a utility pole, which came to rest on Ohm's car, leaving live power lines hanging down approximately five feet off the ground. Ohm crawled out of his car and assisted two passengers. Ohm then walked to the road and flagged down an approaching car driven by Benike. Ohm informed Benike of the accident and Benike agreed to go home and call for help.

After calling for help, Benike drove his car back to the accident scene. He parked his car on a gravel road adjoining the county road, approximately 50 to 90 feet from Ohm's vehicle. Benike told Ohm he called 911, then followed Ohm into the ditch toward Ohm's car, where he came in contact with the live power lines. Benike received a shock from the power lines and fell to the ground approximately three to five feet from Ohm's vehicle.

Benike commenced the present action against Dairyland for basic economic loss benefits under his automobile insurance policy. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court denied Dairyland's motion and granted Benike's motion. The district court concluded that Benike's injuries arose out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle. The parties stipulated to Benike's damages and the district court ordered the entry of final judgment.

ISSUE

Did the district court err in concluding that Benike's injuries arose out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle?

ANALYSIS

On appeal from summary judgment, we must determine: (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact; and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn.1990). Whether an accident arises out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle is a legal question and each case must turn on the particular facts presented. Hanson v. Grinnell Mut. Reinsurance, 422 N.W.2d 288, 289 (Minn.App.1988), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. June 29, 1988) (quoting Continental Western Ins. v. Klug, 415 N.W.2d 876, 877-78 (Minn.1987)).

A predominant goal of Minnesota's No-Fault Automobile Insurance Act is to allocate the costs of injuries causally resulting from motoring activities to the automobile insurance system. Marklund v. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins., 400 N.W.2d 337, 341 (Minn.1987). The No-Fault Act provides for basic economic loss benefits for "all loss suffered through injury arising out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle." Minn.Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 1 (1990). The phrase "maintenance or use of a motor vehicle" is defined as:

[M]aintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a vehicle, including, incident to its maintenance or use as a vehicle, occupying, entering into, and alighting from it.

Minn.Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 3 (1990).

The statute does not require that the injuries arise out of the injured party's maintenance or use of a motor vehicle. Instead, the injuries may arise out of another person's use or maintenance of a motor vehicle. See, e.g., Nadeau v. Austin Mut. Ins., 350 N.W.2d 368, 372 (Minn.1984) (finding no-fault coverage where pedestrian was injured in attempting to avoid an oncoming car); Holzemer v. Millers' Mut. Ins., 359 N.W.2d 291, 292 (Minn.App.1984) (finding pedestrian was entitled to no-fault coverage because he was struck by an automobile and thus his injuries arose out of the use of a motor vehicle).

Dairyland contends that coverage does not exist in light of Haagenson v. National Farmers Union Property & Casualty, 277 N.W.2d 648 (Minn.1979). We disagree. In Haagenson, the plaintiff received injuries from downed power lines after investigating the scene of an automobile accident. The supreme court concluded the plaintiff was entitled to no-fault coverage because the evidence supported a finding that he was "entering into" the automobile in which he had arrived. Id. at 651-52. As Nadeau and Holzemer illustrate, however, no-fault coverage is not limited to cases in which the injured party was occupying, entering into, or alighting from an automobile. Thus, although Haagenson is factually similar, we need not deny coverage merely because Benike was not "entering into" an automobile.

The supreme court developed general factors to consider in determining whether an injury arose out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle. Klug, 415 N.W.2d at 878. First, we must consider the extent of causation between the automobile and the injury. Id. The automobile must be an "active accessory" in causing the injury. Id. (quoting Holm v. Mutual Serv. Casualty Ins., 261 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn.1977)). This is "something less than proximate cause in the tort sense and something more than the vehicle being the mere situs of the injury." Tlougan v. Auto-Owners Ins., 310 N.W.2d 116, 117 (Minn.1981). In the tort context, "[p]roximate cause exists if the negligent conduct was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury." Flom v. Flom, 291 N.W.2d 914, 917 (Minn.1980). Because the record indicates that Ohm's conduct was a substantial factor in causing Benike's injuries, we conclude a sufficient causal connection exists between the automobile and Benike's injuries.

Second, we must consider whether an act of independent significance occurred, breaking the causal link between the "use" of the vehicle and the injuries inflicted. Klug, 415 N.W.2d at 878. There is no evidence that an intervening act occurred between Ohm's accident and Benike's injuries. Instead, the relationship between the accident and Benike's injuries was "continuous and uninterrupted." See Horace Mann Ins. Co. v. Neuville, 465 N.W.2d 432, 434 (Minn.App.1991), pet. for rev. denied (Minn. Mar. 27, 1991).

Finally, we must consider whether the automobile was used for transportation purposes. Klug, 415 N.W.2d at 878. The record indicates that Ohm was using his automobile for transportation purposes until the time of the accident. Because Benike was injured shortly thereafter, we conclude this factor has been satisfied. In light of the predominant goal of no-fault insurance to allocate the costs of motoring injuries to the insurance system, we conclude Benike's injuries arose out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle.

DECISION

The district court correctly held that Benike's injuries arose out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle. Because the facts are undisputed, the district court correctly granted summary judgment in favor of Benike.

Affirmed.

AMUNDSON, Judge (concurring specially).

Although I agree with the majority's ultimate conclusion, I write to emphasize that the claim should more appropriately be made against the insurance of the Scott Ohm's vehicle, not Benike's insurance, as the district court suggested.

An injury that...

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3 cases
  • Steinfeldt v. AMCO Ins. Co., CX-98-1952
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals
    • May 4, 1999
    ...652 (Minn.1979). Steinfeldt argues that the causation requirement is satisfied, based on this court's decision in Benike v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 520 N.W.2d 465 (Minn.App.1994), review granted (Minn. Oct. 14, 1994), and appeal dismissed (Minn. Apr. 5, 1995). But the injuries in Benike were ca......
  • Tillery v. League General Ins. Co., C3-98-724
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals
    • October 13, 1998
    ...Haagenson v. National Farmers Union Property & Cas. Co., 277 N.W.2d 648, 652 (Minn.1979)). Tillery relies on Benike v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 520 N.W.2d 465 (Minn.App.1994), review granted (Minn. Oct. 14, 1994), appeal dismissed (Minn. Apr. 5, 1995). In Benike, an insured driver came upon a mo......
  • Alexis v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co.
    • United States
    • Minnesota Court of Appeals
    • May 17, 2005
    ...allocate the costs of injuries causally resulting from motoring activities to the automobile insurance system." Benike v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 520 N.W.2d 465, 466 (Minn.App.1994), review granted (Minn. Oct. 14, 1994), and appeal dismissed (Minn. Apr. 5, 1995). Under the no-fault act, the phr......

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