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Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Co. v. Schmitt

October 08, 2002

MIDWEST FAMILY MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, RESPONDENT (C8-02-563), DEPOSITORS INSURANCE COMPANY, RESPONDENT (C8-02-580),
v.
DOUGLAS SCHMITT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS, TRACY OLENE, APPELLANT.



Scott County District Court File No. 200116149

Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Toussaint, Chief Judge, and Hudson, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The divisible, concurrent cause doctrine does not automatically provide coverage for injuries sustained through the use of a motor vehicle where there are two independent acts, one vehicle-related and one nonvehicle-related. Rather, in determining whether the doctrine applies, the determinative question is whether the nonvehicle-related cause could have operated independently of the use of a motor vehicle to cause the loss.

2. The motor-vehicle exclusion in the homeowners' insurance policy precluded coverage for injuries caused when a negligently inspected chain attached to a motorized crane broke, dropping the car it was lifting, because the negligent inspection of the chain would not have been exposed but for the use of the motorized crane.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hudson, Judge

Affirmed

OPINION

Respondents Depositors Insurance Company (Depositors) and Midwest Family Mutual Insurance Company (Midwest Family) each brought declaratory-judgment actions seeking a declaration that the respective homeowner's insurance policies issued by them did not provide coverage for appellant's injuries. Appellant (Tracy Olene) and the insureds, Douglas and Mathias Schmitt, were attempting to lift Olene's car off of a flatbed trailer and move it to another location. Olene was injured when a chain, which had been wrapped through the car windows and attached to a motorized crane, broke, causing the car to fall on top of him. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of respondents, finding that the motor-vehicle exclusion in respondents' policies precluded coverage for appellant's injuries. Because the breaking of the chain could not have occurred independently of the use of a motor vehicle, it is not a divisible, concurrent cause, and the motor-vehicle exclusion in the insurance policies precluded coverage for appellant's injuries. We affirm.

FACTS

Mathias Schmitt (Mathias) runs an auto scrap business from his home, which includes a shop for working on cars. The business, known as R & P Auto, sells salvaged car parts and scraps the metal. Mathias has a dealer's license from the State of Minnesota and pays $25 a year for a county permit to store oil waste. R & P Auto has a separate bank account; these funds are kept separate from personal finances. The Schmitts schedule "Rá&áP Auto" on their income taxes as a "business."

On March 4, 2000, Olene went to Mathias's home to drop off his 1970 Malibu, which he was selling for scrap value. There, he was to meet with Douglas Schmitt (Doug), Mathias's son. Olene brought his car to Mathias Schmitt's home on a flatbed trailer owned by Olene.

Because Doug needed to transport the Malibu to a different location in the scrap yard, the car had to be lifted off of Olene's trailer. In order to lift the car, Doug used a motorized crane, which he had bought for Mathias's scrap yard for this specific purpose. The crane had a heavy-duty cable with a hook that attached to objects for lifting.*fn1 Doug passed a chain through the window of the Malibu, and with Olene's help, passed it through the car and folded both ends of the cable onto the roof of the car. Next, Doug secured both ends of the chain by connecting hooks at either end of the chain onto each other. Finally, he attached the crane cable, which has its own hook, to the chain wrapped around the car. Doug then activated the winch on the crane, and the car was lifted off the trailer.

When the Malibu was lifted off the trailer, Doug noticed that oil was leaking from the car, and he placed a pan underneath the car to catch the oil. When the pan began to fill, he removed it, which caused his hands to become soiled. Doug turned his back on Olene and grabbed a rag to wipe his hands. At this time, Olene grabbed a second pan, placed it underneath the vehicle, and, as he was coming out from under the car, the chain broke on a weld on one of the links. The Malibu fell on Olene, causing serious injuries.

Olene sued Mathias and Doug Schmitt, who tendered defense of the lawsuit to Depositors and Midwest Family, their respective homeowner's liability insurers. Both insurers brought declaratory-judgment actions claiming that they were not obligated to defend or indemnify the Schmitts. Midwest Family also contends that Olene's negligent-inspection claim is barred on appeal because it was not specifically alleged in Olene's complaint. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of ...


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