NO-FAULT STATUTORY BUSINESS PREMISES EXCLUSION APPLIED TO MOBILE BUSINESS

On December 12, 2013, Jose Luis Estrada-Martinez died from carbon monoxide poisoning while repairing a customer’s tire inside his truck on a winter evening.  Estrada-Martinez was self-employed providing vehicle repair services for customers, which he often performed in the rear cargo bay of his truck.  In Castillo v. American Standard Insurance Co., Case No. A16-1002, Estrada-Martinez was fixing a customer’s tire in the cargo bay of his box truck while the truck was parked.  He used a gasoline-powered generator to power the tire-changing equipment.  He vented the exhaust from the generator through the side of the truck, but the truck’s loading door was closed.  Unfortunately, a leak between the exhaust pipe and the generator’s manifold allowed carbon monoxide to enter the cargo area.  He was later found unresponsive in the back of the truck and was declared dead from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Following his death, his family sought No-Fault benefits for medical and funeral expenses under the family’s personal automobile insurance policy with American Standard Insurance Company.  American Standard denied the claim because decedent’s death arose out of the business of maintaining vehicles, which was excluded under the No-Fault Act, Minn. Stat. § 65B.43, subd. 3, which states that No-Fault benefits are not available for loss arising from conduct occurring within the course of a business of servicing, repairing, or otherwise maintaining a motor vehicle.  Importantly, this exclusion only applies if the conduct occurs on the business premises.  The analysis in the case hinged on whether a mobile business was considered the business premises.  Because of ambiguity in the statute, the court of appeals looked to legislative intent.  Ultimately, the court concluded that business-premise exclusions includes mobile businesses.  Important to its analysis was that it should be anticipated that mobile businesses, just like other non-mobile businesses, will purchase other non-automobile insurance for occupational injuries occurring on the business premises.

We will follow this case in the anticipated event of an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Please contact us with any questions regarding this case or any other no-fault/UM/UIM claims.