When is an Off-Road Vehicle Not a Motor Vehicle? The Michigan Court of Appeals Provides Guidance

What is covered by the Michigan No-Fault Act? One requirement for insurer payment is that the injury has to arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. But what is a “motor vehicle” under the law? The answer is not as simple as you might think. A “motor vehicle” is not a motorcycle, moped, farm tractor, quadricycle, off-road vehicle (“ORV”) or golf cart. Injuries involving these vehicles are generally not covered by Michigan No-Fault.

However, the difference between an ORV and an SUV or truck can become difficult when these rigs are customized for off-roading. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently found that a heavily-customized “mud bog” was not a motor vehicle and did not give rise to the protections of the Michigan No-Fault Act. In Snyder v. Michigan Assigned Claims Plan, Marcus Snyder was hurt when he was hit by a “mud bog.” The mud bog was a stock vehicle that had been received many modifications. It was  not suited to drive on roads and was designed to drive for short periods of time through mud pits. It had tires that the owner claimed were not “road legal,” did not have an alternator and was powered not by a gas tank, but by a fuel cell that took racing fuel. However, the driver of the mud bog was intoxicated at the time of the crash and was convicted of operating a “motor vehicle” while intoxicated causing serious injury. Snyder sued for benefits under the Michigan No-Fault Act. The trial court found that the mud bog, despite its modifications, was a motor vehicle, entitling Snyder to No-Fault benefits. The Assigned Claims Facility (which provides No-Fault benefits for those hit by uninsured motorists) appealed the trial court’s decision.

The Michigan Court of Appeals found that the mud bog was modified so much that it was no longer designed for operation on a public highway. The court found that the mud bog was an ORV and not a motor vehicle under the law. Moreover, the court found that the driver’s criminal conviction for operating a “motor vehicle” while intoxicated had no bearing on whether the mud bog was a motor vehicle. Thus, the court found that Snyder could not receive Michigan No-Fault benefits.

This case illustrates some of the fact-specific subtleties that weigh on whether someone is eligible for No-Fault benefits. It also illustrates the importance of guidance by a law firm that focuses on representing people injured by motor vehicles, motorcycles or ORVs. The law firm of Numinen, DeForge & Mathieu, PC represents drivers injured by at-fault drivers under the Michigan No-Fault act as well as those injured by motorcycles, ORVs and snowmobiles. The firm represents clients throughout the Upper Peninsula, including Marquette, Houghton, Sault Ste. Marie, Escanaba, Menominee and Iron Mountain. To speak to an attorney, please contact Phil Toutant at phillip@numinenlaw.com or at (906) 226-2580.

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