Continental Western Ins. Co. v. Klug, C8-86-731

Decision Date04 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. C8-86-731,C8-86-731
Citation415 N.W.2d 876
PartiesCONTINENTAL WESTERN INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent, v. Russell KLUG, et al., Petitioners, Appellants.
CourtMinnesota Supreme Court

Syllabus by the Court

Appellant's injuries, caused when uninsured motorist drove alongside of appellant and assaulted him with a shotgun, arose out of the use of assailant's automobile for motoring purposes.

Theodore J. Smetab, Minneapolis, for petitioners, appellants.

Thomas F. Van Horn, St. Paul, for respondent.

Considered and decided by the court en banc without oral argument.

OPINION

AMDAHL, Chief Justice.

Appellants Russell and Wendy Klug petitioned this court to review a decision by the court of appeals affirming the trial court's granting of summary judgment in favor of respondent Continental Western Insurance Company (Continental). The court held that Russell Klug's gunshot injury did not arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, and that therefore the appellants' claims were not covered under no-fault or uninsured motorist benefits. We granted the Klugs' petition for review and we reverse and remand to the court of appeals for further proceedings.

The parties have stipulated to the facts. On August 1, 1984, Russell Klug was driving home from work in the right-hand lane of a highway at 55 miles per hour. Klug looked to his left as a car pulled next to him in the passing lane 3 to 5 feet away. He recognized the driver as Daniel Bahe, a fellow worker. He also noticed that Bahe was pointing a shotgun out the passenger window directly at him.

Klug immediately swerved his car right and ducked down to avoid being shot. Only Klug's left arm, which he used to drive the car, remained exposed through the window. Klug heard a gunshot, and sat up to steer the car back into the right-hand lane; unknown to Klug at the time, he had been wounded in the left arm. Klug turned to look left and saw the shotgun was still pointed at him. Klug accelerated ahead of Bahe as a second shot was fired. Klug then pulled into the left lane in an attempt to prevent Bahe from approaching along the driver's side. Bahe sped up and rammed Klug's vehicle from behind. Klug swerved back and forth across the highway to prevent Bahe from pulling alongside.

The two cars maneuvered along the highway until they approached an exit. Klug noticed for the first time that he had been shot. He slammed on his brakes and pulled off the exit ramp. Bahe was unable to slow down quickly enough to exit with Klug. Klug stopped his car and received assistance.

The only injury claimed by Klug was the gunshot wound. The assailant Bahe was driving an uninsured car at the time of the incident. Both parties stipulated that Bahe's actions were the result of Bahe's mental illness.

Upon the facts stated, Continental sought summary judgment in its declaratory judgment action. The trial court granted judgment for Continental, stating, "[t]he injuries could have occurred anywhere; the automobile was merely the situs of the assault. There was no causal connection between use of the vehicle for transportation purposes and Klug's injuries. Accordingly, the insurer is not required to pay no-fault benefits under the policy."

The court of appeals affirmed, finding that Bahe's vehicle was the mere situs of his attack on Klug, and was not an "active accessory" of the incident. Continental Western Ins. Co. v. Klug, 394 N.W.2d 872, 877 (Minn.App.1986).

The legal issue of whether an accident arises out of the use or maintenance of an automobile is a recurring question which defies a simple test. Instead, "each case presenting such a question must, to a great degree, turn on the particular facts presented." Assoc. Indep. Dealers, Inc. v. Mutual Service Ins. Cos., 304 Minn. 179, 182, 229 N.W.2d 516, 518 (1975). We have set forth general factors to consider when addressing the issue.

The first consideration is the extent of causation between the automobile and the injury. In Holm v. Mutual Service Cas. Ins. Co., 261 N.W.2d 598, 603 (Minn.1977), we stated that the vehicle must be an "active accessory" in causing the injury. This causation standard was clarified to be "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. Co., 310 N.W.2d 116, 117 (Minn.1981) (girl burned while playing with matches in parked truck not victim of injuries caused by vehicle); see also Engeldinger v. State Auto and Casualty Underwriters, 306 Minn. 202, 236 N.W.2d 596 (1975) (man freezing to death in parked car after passing out from intoxication held not entitled to recover).

If a court finds the requisite degree of causation, it should next determine whether an act of independent significance occurred, breaking the causal link between "use" of the vehicle and the injuries inflicted. In Holm, we found an act of independent significance where a police officer, after pursuing a motorcycle, left his vehicle to make an arrest and committed a battery upon the motorcyclist. We stated, "[the officer] had completely left the vehicle before he administered the tortious battery. The police car had served only...

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