Steinfeldt v. AMCO Ins. Co., CX-98-1952

Citation592 N.W.2d 877
Decision Date04 May 1999
Docket NumberNo. CX-98-1952,CX-98-1952
PartiesWarren Lee STEINFELDT, et al., Appellants, v. AMCO INSURANCE COMPANY, Respondent.
CourtCourt of Appeals of Minnesota

Syllabus by the Court

An insured's injuries resulting from an attempt to provide assistance to victims of a motor vehicle accident on an adjacent roadway did not arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as defined by Minnesota's no-fault insurance statute.

Christopher A. Nelson, St. Louis Park, MN (for appellants)

Thomas H. Schaefer, Erstad & Riemer, P.A., Minneapolis, MN (for respondent)

Considered and decided by SCHUMACHER, Presiding Judge, LANSING, Judge, and WILLIS, Judge.

OPINION

LANSING, Judge.

Warren Steinfeldt sustained injuries while attempting to provide assistance to victims of a motor vehicle accident on an adjacent roadway. The district court granted AMCO Insurance Company's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Steinfeldt's claim for coverage under his no-fault automobile insurance policy. We affirm.

FACTS

Warren Steinfeldt, his wife, and their son were traveling in early November on a divided highway toward LaCrosse, Wisconsin. It was dark and the roads were icy. As they approached an overpass, Steinfeldt noticed approximately 12-14 cars colliding in the oncoming lanes of traffic.

Steinfeldt observed a car traveling the wrong direction in the opposite lane. A man got out of the car and began running toward the area of the accident. Steinfeldt asked the man if he needed help and the man said "yes." Steinfeldt got out of his car and ran up the road, intending to direct the oncoming traffic away from the accident. He heard a woman scream, changed direction, and headed toward the accident. Assuming it was about eight feet to the ground between the two lanes of traffic, Steinfeldt intended to leap over the cement barrier at the side of the road. But the underlying terrain that had been a recessed grassy median at the point Steinfeldt left his car had become a drop from an overpass approximately 50 to 60 feet from the ground. The force of the fall resulted in paralysis of his lower body, and he remains paraplegic.

Steinfeldt applied for benefits under his automobile insurance personal injury protection (PIP) endorsement. AMCO refused to pay any costs of Steinfeldt's treatment under the policy. The Steinfeldts (collectively Steinfeldt) filed suit against AMCO. AMCO moved for summary judgment, which the district court granted. Steinfeldt appeals, contending the injuries arose out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, and he is therefore entitled to recover under Minnesota's no-fault law. Minn.Stat. 65B.44, subd. 3 (1996).

ISSUE

Did Steinfeldt's injuries arise out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as defined in Minn.Stat. 65B.43, subd. 3 (1996)?

ANALYSIS

Our review of the district court's entry of summary judgment is limited to whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn.1990); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 56.03. On agreed facts, whether "an injury arises out of the use or maintenance of a motor vehicle is a question of law." Kemmerer v. State Farm Ins. Cos., 513 N.W.2d 838, 842 (Minn.App.1994) (citing North River Ins. Co. v. Dairyland Ins. Co., 346 N.W.2d 109, 113 n. 2 (Minn.1984)), review denied (Minn. June 2, 1994). The determination turns on the particular facts presented in each case. Continental W. Ins. Co. v. Klug, 415 N.W.2d 876, 877-78 (Minn.1987).

Under the no-fault act, an insured may recover basic economic loss benefits for injuries "arising out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle." Minn.Stat. § 65B.44, subd. 1 (1996). The supreme court has formulated a three-factor test to determine whether an injury arose out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle. Continental W. Ins., 415 N.W.2d at 878. First, the court considers the extent of the causation between the vehicle and the injury. Id. Second, if causation is present, the court considers whether an act of independent significance broke the causal chain. Id. Third, if no intervening act breaks the causal chain, the court determines whether the vehicle was being used for transportation purposes at the time of the injury. Id.

The requisite connection between use and injury is "something less than proximate cause in the tort sense and something more than the vehicle being the mere situs of the injury." North River Ins. Co., 346 N.W.2d at 114 (citation omitted). The causal connection is met if "the injury is a natural and reasonable incident or consequence of the use of the vehicle." Haagenson v. National Farmers Union Property & Cas. Co., 277 N.W.2d 648, 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 caused by live power lines that had been pulled down as a result of the motor vehicle accident. Id. at 465. Although Benike and Steinfeldt share the similar circumstance of attempting to assist injured motorists, Benike's injury, unlike Steinfeldt's, was caused by contact with a physical instrumentality directly connected to the accident. See also Progressive Cas. Ins. Co. v. Hoekman, 359 N.W.2d 685 (Minn.App.1984) (injured party recovered under no-fault policy when automobile damaged garage door and garage door fell when injured party attempted to adjust it) review denied (...

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