State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Wyant, Docket No. 83524

Decision Date14 January 1987
Docket NumberDocket No. 83524
Citation398 N.W.2d 517,154 Mich.App. 745
PartiesSTATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Victor WYANT, Defendant-Appellee, and Dave Messner and Diane Messner, Defendants.
CourtCourt of Appeal of Michigan — District of US

French & Lawrence by Jane M. Stamp, Cassopolis, for plaintiff-appellant.

Butzbaugh & Ryan, P.C. by John E. Dewane, St. Joseph, for defendant-appellee.

Before DANHOF, C.J., and MAHER and KINGSLEY *, JJ.

KINGSLEY, Judge.

Plaintiff appeals from the trial court's grant of summary judgment under GCR 1963, 117.2(2), in response to defendant Wyant's motion.

The record discloses that on the evening of September 11, 1982, defendant Wyant was driving his farm tractor, to which two flat haywagons were attached, for a 4-H Club hayride. Defendants Messners were adult chaperones on the hayride. Ten-year-old Jennifer Proctor was riding on the left front corner of the second haywagon, and was seriously injured when she either jumped, fell, or was pushed off the wagon on which she was sitting and was run over by the wheels of the wagon.

Jennifer's father collected $76,574.42 in personal protection insurance benefits from plaintiff, his no-fault insurer. See M.C.L. § 500.3105; M.S.A. § 24.13105. Plaintiff then commenced this action against defendants to recover the monies paid, founded on a claim of contractual subrogation pursuant to its insurance policy with Mr. Proctor.

The trial court found that plaintiff's right to reimbursement was limited to the confines of the no-fault act, specifically M.C.L. § 500.3116(2); M.S.A. § 24.13116(2); found that plaintiff's cause of action for subrogation was contrary to the provisions of that statute; and dismissed plaintiff's complaint because it failed to state a claim on which relief could be granted.

Through the no-fault act, the Legislature has provided that an insurer is liable to pay personal protection benefits for accidental bodily injury "arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle." M.C.L. § 500.3105(1); M.S.A. § 24.13105(1).

In Lee v. DAIIE, 412 Mich. 505, 512-513, 315 N.W.2d 413 (1982), our Supreme Court held that the right to recover personal protection insurance benefits for injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident is not dependent on whether that vehicle is one for which no-fault coverage is mandatory under M.C.L. § 500.3101(1); M.S.A. § 24.13101(1). Instead, the right to recover is dependent only on whether the injury arises out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, as the term "motor vehicle" is defined in M.C.L. § 500.3101(2)(c); M.S.A. § 24.13101(2)(c).

Applying Lee to the facts before us, we conclude that personal protection insurance benefits were properly paid in the instant case. Even though a farm tractor is a vehicle which need not be registered in Michigan, 1 it is a "vehicle ... operated ... upon a public highway by power other than muscular power which has more than 2 wheels." M.C.L. § 500.3101(2)(c); M.S.A. § 24.13101(2)(c). 2 The Supreme Court has found that a tractor operated on a public highway fits the § 3101(2)(c) definition of "motor vehicle." Pioneer State Mutual Ins. Co. v. Allstate Ins. Co., 417 Mich. 590, 596, 339 N.W.2d 470 (1983).

The subject of reimbursement for such payments was addressed by the Legislature in M.C.L. § 500.3116(2); M.S.A. § 24.13116(2). That section established three situations in which the right of reimbursement may occur, and provides in relevant part:

"A subtraction from or reimbursement for personal protection insurance benefits paid or payable under this chapter shall be made only if recovery is realized upon a tort claim arising from an accident occurring outside this state, a tort claim brought within this state against the owner or operator of a motor vehicle with respect to which the security required by section 3101(3) and (4) was not in effect, or a tort claim brought within this state based on intentionally caused harm to persons or property, and shall be made only to the extent that the recovery realized by the claimant has received or would otherwise be entitled to receive personal protection insurance benefits."

Plaintiff acknowledges the applicability of the Lee decision to the facts and concedes that it was required to pay the benefits on behalf of Jennifer. Plaintiff further concedes that its cause of action does not fall within any of the circumstances enumerated in § 3116. Plaintiff argues, however, that its contractual right of subrogation controls because this case falls outside the purview of the no-fault act. In its appellate brief, plaintiff states:

"Even though the No-Fault Act has a 'limited application' to the case at hand for purposes of payment of PIP benefits, the Act does not apply 'across the board' to the case at hand. This is particularly true for purposes of determining Plaintiff's right to Subrogation and Reimbursement. In determining same, the case at hand falls outside the scope of the act and thus, the Act does not apply."

Plaintiff would have this Court hold that the Lee Court's "broad" definition of "motor vehicle" has application only to the payment of personal protection insurance benefits as required pursuant to the policy of the act to protect "persons, not motor vehicles." Lee, supra, 412 Mich. at p. 509, 315 N.W.2d 413.

To address plaintiff's claim, we apply the familiar rules of statutory construction:

"The most important rule, of course, is to discover and give effect to the legislative intent.

* * *

* * *

"The next rule is to derive the legislative intention from the actual language used in the statute.... If the language used is clear and the meaning of the words chosen is unambiguous, a common-sense reading of the provision will suffice, and no interpretation is necessary." Karl v. Bryant Air Conditioning Co., 416 Mich. 558, 567, 331 N.W.2d 456 (1982).

We believe that the language of §§ 3105 and 3116 is clear and unambiguous, and the plaintiff's proffered construction is contrary to the plain language of the act. Section 3105 states the circumstances under which personal protection insurance benefits are payable, and those circumstances exist in ...

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