Two courts in Michigan have ruled that the insurer of a truck must pay $18,000 for damage caused to a small airplane that crashed after clipping the truck as the pilot tried to land in a grassy airfield.
The truck was being lawfully driven on a road when the two-seat Cessna flipped over it and went nose-first into the ground, stopping upside-down in the field.
Truck driver Kevin Gould, of Sand Lake, said he was hauling broken concrete when he spotted the aircraft diving toward him and thought: “I’m done.”
But Gould, now 26, was not hurt in the May 2003 accident that happened just outside of Cedar Springs. Jackson pilot Richard DeGraw, now 64, and his passenger, his wife Karol, also escaped injury.
Dean Wall, founder of Dean’s Landscaping in Sand Lake and the truck’s owner, said he got a letter from the DeGraws a few weeks after the crash. It said a claim was being made against his insurance company seeking payment for the damage to the plane, which was built in 1974 and totaled in the crash.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd and asinine,” Wall told The Grand Rapids Press for a story published Monday. “It’s unbelievable.”
His insurer, Cincinnati Insurance Co., ended up being sued for the plane damage in Rockford District Court.
J. Paul Janes, a Grand Rapids lawyer representing the DeGraws, argued in court that Michigan’s no-fault insurance statute calls for compensation in property damage cases that occur in collisions between motor vehicles designed to be driven upon roads and things that are not, when the collisions do not occur upon roads.
Janes said the plane is not a highway vehicle, and since it struck the truck and never touched the road surface, the accident didn’t occur upon a road.
The definition of the word “upon” was argued, with the use of dictionaries, before District Judge Steven Servaas.
In briefs filed with the court, Cincinnati Insurance lawyer David Campos argued that the definitions of “motor vehicle” and “upon a road” were too narrow and not what the no-fault statute intended.
Servaas sided with Janes in a ruling issued in November 2004. The judge’s decision was affirmed this month in an appeal made before Judge James Robert Redford in Kent County Circuit Court.
Janes said the no-fault law is clear in this case, proven by the fact that two judges have studied it and reached the same conclusion.
Campos, who specializes in Michigan no-fault law, said the system is still a good one for insurance companies and their customers but some changes are needed.
He also said it is unlikely that an $18,000 verdict will prompt his company to fund further appeals or lead to the Legislature taking any action.
DeGraw said he has not received the money to replace his wrecked airplane, valued at $21,000. But Wall, the truck’s owner, said he now has a $59,000 claim on his insurance record that reflects the cost of defending the case.
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