March 02, 2017
On February 23, 2017, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued a decision intended for publication in Donald Bergman and Sherry Bergman v Bryce R. Cotanche and Boyne USA, Inc., ____ Mich App ____ (2017) (Docket No. 330438). In Bergman, Boyne USA owned a front-end loader which was used for snow removal in the regular operations of the ski resort. The front-end-loader was not registered with the State of Michigan and was not insured under any No-Fault policy of insurance. Bryce Cotanche was employed by Boyne and was driving the aforementioned front-end-loader/snow plow on a public highway which connected two private roadways owned by Boyne. He was in the process of travelling the quarter mile distance between the two snow plowing sites when the front-end loader/snow plow collided with a vehicle being operated by plaintiff. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendants, as the owners of the snow plow and employer of Cotanche, seeking compensation for his injuries .
Plaintiff asserted the snow plow was required to be registered and insured and because it was not, he was entitled to recover an amount equal to all of the personal injury protection benefits paid by his no-fault carrier in addition to any bodily injury damages pursuant to MCL 500.3116. Boyne argued that it was not required to insure the vehicle under MCL 500.3101 because the vehicle was “special mobile equipment” which is exempt from registration under the Motor Vehicle Code, MCL 257.216(d). The trial court rejected this argument, denying Boyne’s motion for summary disposition and an appeal ensued.
MCL 500.3101 provides that “the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle that is required to be registered in this state shall maintain security for payment of benefits under personal protection, property protection insurance, and residual liability insurance.” MCL 257.216(d) provides that certain “special mobile equipment” is exempt from registration, thus making it exempt from the insuring requirements of MCL 500.3101. MCL 257.62 defines “special mobile equipment” as “Every vehicle not designed or used primarily for the transportation of persons or property and incidentally operated or moved over the highways….” The statute enumerates types of vehicles which may be classified as “special mobile equipment”, such as farm tractors and construction equipment. Boyne argued that the front-end-loader fit squarely within those types of “special mobile equipment”, thus making it automatically “special mobile equipment”.
The Court of Appeals first noted that simply because a vehicle fits the description of one or more examples of “special mobile equipment” in the statute, the vehicle does not automatically qualify as “special mobile equipment”. In fact, the Court noted that in previous cases courts had interpreted the statute to require that the vehicle must be (1) only incidentally operated or moved over the highway and (2) not designed primarily for transportation of persons or property or (3) not used primarily for transportation of persons or property in order to qualify as special mobile equipment.
The Court noted the parties stipulated that the snow plow at issue was not designed or used primarily for transporting persons or property, thus the analysis turned on whether the snow plow was “incidentally operated or moved over highways.” Since the Motor Vehicle Code did not define incidentally, the Court turned to the ordinary definition which defined incidental as “subordinate to something greater importance; having a minor role.” Analyzing the facts at hand, the Court concluded that the snow plow’s travel on the highway was incidental, since the primary purpose of the snow plow was to plow snow on Boyne’s private property and that its travel over a public road was short and for the sole purpose of moving from one snow plow site to the next. The Court concluded that the frequency of the snow plow’s travel over the public road was not relevant to the analysis. The Court also noted that “special mobile equipment” may be registered by the owner with the state under MCL 257.216(d) but that such registration is strictly voluntary and does not impose a requirement to maintain no-fault insurance coverage.
April 20, 2017
Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park
1000 East Beltline Ave. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
An agenda will be posted soon.
May 18, 2017
Marriott Indianapolis North
3645 River Crossing Parkway
Indianapolis, IN 46240
An agenda will be posted soon.