Lawyers’ Corner: Motor Home Use in Progressive Michigan Ins Co v Brenner

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Is a motor home a motor vehicle or a dwelling? If your client is injured using one, do no-fault benefits apply? A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision says it depends.

When a person is injured while using a motor home or RV, it can create a unique set of questions that don’t often come up. When is a motor home a vehicle and when is it a dwelling? Can a person receive no-fault benefits for injuries suffered while using a parked motor vehicle?

Those were the questions before the Michigan Court of Appeals in Progressive Michigan Insurance Company v BrennerIn an unpublished opinion the court explained how to decide whether an injured party was using a motor home “as a motor vehicle” at the time of the injury.

On June 11, 2012, Kristine Brenner fell when she was stepping out of her motor home with a bag full of baby clothes for her granddaughter. The automatic electronic step, which is designed to extend whenever the door is opened, failed to do so, causing her to fall.

Kristine sought PIP benefits from her no-fault provider, Progressive Michigan Insurance Company. The auto insurer paid $148,089 to cover her no-fault benefits. Progressive then turned around and sued Fremont Michigan Insuracorp, Inc., which insured two other vehicles owned by Kristine and her husband Anthony Brenner, for partial recoupment of its costs.

Use of a Motor Home as a Motor Vehicle

Freemont said it wasn’t liable for any part of Brenner’s injuries. It said Kristine wasn’t using the motor home as a motor vehicle at the time of the injury. MCL 500.3105(1) allows for benefits for “accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, subject to the provisions of this chapter.” However, when a vehicle is parked MCL 500.3106 limits benefits to three situations:

“(a) The vehicle was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the bodily injury which occurred.

(b) Except as provided in subsection (2), the injury was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, while the equipment was being operated or used, or property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.

(c) Except as provided in subsection (2), the injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle.”

The court reviewed the three requirements for parked vehicles laid out in Putkamer v Transamerica Ins Corp of America:

  1. That the claimant’s conduct fits within MCL 500.3106;
  2. That the injury arose out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle;
  3. That the causal relationship between the injury and the motor vehicle is more than incidental, fortuitous, or but for.

While most motor vehicles are used primarily as a motor vehicle, motor homes can also be used as a housing facility. When that is the case, an injury happening within a motor home does not meet Putkamer‘s second requirement or MCL 500.3105.

Motor Home: Transportation or Housing?

To determine if Kristine Brenner met these requirements, the court looked more closely at the facts in the case.

“In this case, Kristine drove the motor home to her daughter’s home because they planned to attend a race together the next day. Kristine testified that she parked the motor home in her daughter’s driveway approximately two hours before the accident, she intended to leave the motor home parked for the night and to sleep in it, and she exited and reentered the motor home approximately four times before the accident occurred. After parking the motor home, Kristine ate a meal in it. She testified that the motor home was fully functional in that it had water, a refrigerator, a generator, a television, and was completely stocked with clothing, toiletries, silverware, sheets, and pillows. Although Kristine had not yet turned on the generator at the time of the accident, she testified that she intended to turn it on that evening, possibly to watch television. Considering the facts of this case, we conclude that, at the time of the accident, Kristine had ceased using the motor home in a manner closely related to its transportational function and was instead using it as a housing facility.”

Because the court found that the injury occurred when the motor home was being used as a housing facility, she was not entitled to PIP benefits from Fremont, and Progressive couldn’t get recouped for its mistaken payment.

Representing Clients After Progressive Michigan Ins Co

If Progressive Michigan Ins Co v Brenner stands for anything, its that motor home cases are fact intensive. Whether your client will be entitled to no-fault benefits depends on the particular facts surrounding the use of that vehicle and the injury.

Motor home accidents can happen on the road, at a campsite, or in a driveway. But that doesn’t mean they are all motor vehicle accidents. Before you file your PIP claim, make sure you dig into the facts to make sure you’ll meet the use requirements.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. If your client has a difficult no-fault issue, contact Christensen Law today for a referral.