Lawyers’ Corner: Towing Accident in Walega v Farm Bureau Insurance Co.

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The Michigan No-Fault Auto Insurance Act is pretty clear about medical expenses resulting from automobile accidents. What if the injury wasn’t caused by a car crash but a towing accident? A new court opinion has you covered.

Can an injured person seek PIP First Party insurance benefits when they are injured in a towing accident? A new published Court of Appeals decision says yes.

In Walega v Farm Bureau Insurance Co., the plaintiff and his wife were trying to move a 1,500 pound safe out of their garage. According to the insurance company, the plaintiff’s wife used the family truck to drag the safe out of the garage using a rope. The plaintiff says they were in the process of loading the safe into the flatbed of the truck. The plaintiff’s wife drove the truck forward and hit a patch of uneven cement, causing the safe to fall and crush the plaintiff’s leg resulting in several surgeries and eventually an amputation.

The trial court awarded the Plaintiff $75,000 in no-fault benefits, but Farm Bureau Insurance Company appealed, claiming the injury was not related to the use of a motor vehicle “as a motor vehicle.”

The court noted this isn’t the first time PIP benefits have been awarded for a towing accident. In Smith v Community Service Ins Co, the court awarded benefits to a person who was injured while riding an inner tube over snow-covered roads while being towed by a motor vehicle.

The court agreed, the question was whether the truck was being used “as a motor vehicle” at the time of the towing accident. The Defendant had raised several cases where benefits were denied when cars were used for sleeping or to prop up ladders. But the court wasn’t convinced this was the same kind of case.

“Driving a truck to transport something is ‘consistent with its inherent nature and in accordance with its intended purpose.’ Id. Although the particular method used to transport the safe, i.e., dragging, may not have been contemplated, the use of a truck to transport something is a normal use. . . . It is normal and foreseeable to use a truck, attached with a trailer hitch, to move heavy objects. Accordingly, plaintiff’s injury was closely related to the transportational function of the vehicle and, therefore, arose out of the operation, ownership, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle ‘as a motor vehicle.’”

Auto insurance companies can’t avoid paying PIP benefits just because a person uses a motor vehicle in an unusual way. Auto accident lawyers in towing accident cases should be prepared to fight defendants’ claims that trucks weren’t used “as motor vehicles.” Towing, the court says, is part of the normal use of a motor vehicle.

David Christensen is one of the top auto accident attorneys in Michigan. As part of Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan, he is a 20 year veteran dealing with auto insurance cases. Contact Christensen Law today if your clients have a tricky auto negligence case.