Vojnika v State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins Co (COA - UNP; 6/22/2017; RB # 3650)
Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 331470; Unpublished
Judges Riordan, Ronayne Krause and Swartzle; Unanimous, per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Exception for Employer Provided Vehicles [§3114(3)]
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam decision involving a priority dispute, the Court of Appeals held that plaintiff Raman Vojnika’s (“Vojnika”) employer was the constructive owner of the truck plaintiff was driving at the time he was injured, and that the insurer of that truck, defendant National Interstate Insurance Company (NIIC), was therefore the insurer of highest priority.
G&T Express was an LLC, of which Tenolli was the president and sole member. G&T contracted with RTS Holdings to transport commercial loads. Vojnika worked for Tenolli and had signed “some sort of” employment agreement with “either Tenolli or G&T” and drove a truck that was personally owned by Tenolli. For tax purposes, Vojnika reported that he was self-employed, although he did not work for anyone but Tenolli. In the course of hauling a load for Tenolli, Vojnika was rear-ended while sitting at a stop light, sustaining substantial injuries. The contract between Vojnika and Tenolli was lost in the crash. It was undisputed that RTS insured the truck driven by Vojnika through a policy with NIIC and that Tenolli also individually insured the truck through Protective Insurance Company. The NIIC policy insured the truck while it was engaged in the transportation of freight, while the Protective policy was a “bobtail policy” that covered the truck at all other times. Vojnika insured his personal vehicle through State Farm. When Vojnika tried to recover PIP benefits, all the insurers refused to provide coverage, claiming that another carrier had higher priority. The parties ultimately agreed that Protective was not the insurer of highest priority and the trial court dismissed Protective from the action. The trial court ultimately found that 1) Vojnika was an employee of RTS, 2) RTS was a constructive owner of and insured the truck and 3) Vojnika was injured while driving that truck. The trial court concluded that NIIC was the insurer of highest priority under §3114(3).
The Court found that NIIC was the insurer of highest priority pursuant to MCL 500.3114(3). The Court explained that two elements must be met to establish priority under MCL 500.3114(3): (1) there must be an employee-employer relationship between the injured party and the entity providing the vehicle in which the individual was injured; (2) the employer must be the owner of the vehicle. Applying the economic reality test to determine whether there was an employment relationship, the Court of Appeals said that all factors of the test were met and that Vojnika was, indeed, an employee of G&T/Tenolli. The Court pointed out that the record showed that Tenolli was the titleholder of the truck, but the truck was used “to perform the obligations of G&T’s agreement with RTS, under the direction of G&T’s president.” The Court further noted that G&T’s use of the truck “was sufficiently proprietary” and that G&T was a “constructive owner of the truck” under the No-Fault Act. Turning to the second element, the Court found that G&T was the constructive owner of the truck because Tenolli stored the truck in his storeyard, he provided insurance on the truck, he utilized the truck for his company’s needs, and the truck was important to his business.
Therefore, because plaintiff was an employee of G&T and Tenolli, and both G&T and Tenolli were constructive owners of the truck, the Court of Appeals held that the truck’s insurer had the highest priority under §3114(3). According to the Court, NIIC’s policy covered the truck while it was “engaged in trucking” and there was no dispute that “a trailer of parts was attached to the truck at the time of the accident and that plaintiff was transporting” the parts. Therefore, NIIC’s policy was triggered.
“RTS Properly Insured the Truck Under the No-fault act. The parties do not dispute that RTS held an insurance policy covering the truck at the time of the accident through NIIC. According to NIIC, that policy covers the truck while the truck is engaged in “trucking,” trucking being the act of transporting freight. There is no dispute that a trailer of parts was attached to the truck at the time of the accident and that plaintiff was transporting those parts to Chicago. Accordingly, NIIC’s policy was triggered at the time of the accident. The parties do not dispute that NIIC’s policy was valid and therefore NIIC, as the insurer of the “furnished vehicle,” is the insurer of highest priority under MCL 500.3114(3). As a result, the Court of Appeals concluded that NIIC was the “insurer of the ‘furnished vehicle’” and was the insurer of highest priority under §3114(3).”
Judge Ronayne Krause concurred in the majority’s finding that plaintiff was an employee rather than an independent contractor, but disagreed with the finding that any disregard of the corporate form by Tenolli warranted piercing the corporate veil. The judge went on to agree with the majority’s conclusion that Tenolli, G&T, or an entity combining both, could be considered “owners” of the truck under the No-Fault Act. However, “I respectfully decline to concur in the remainder of the majority’s analysis, because I believe doing so is unnecessary to the resolution of this matter,” she wrote.