The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that an injured passenger in an uninsured motor vehicle could not seek No-Fault economic loss benefits through the Minnesota Assigned Claims Plan because the passenger lived with the owner (his brother) of a separate vehicle which was also uninsured. In Saengkeo v. Minnesota Automobile Assigned Claims, — N.W.2d —, A15-1267 (Minn. App. Apr. 4, 2016), the passenger was occupying an uninsured vehicle owned by a friend. He lived with his brother who had owned a Ford Explorer with his girlfriend, whom he no longer lived with and who had complete use of the SUV. Saengkeo sought No-Fault benefits through the assigned claims plan, a statutory risk sharing pool created by the legislature to protect injured victims with no motor vehicle insurance available due to age (children) or lack of car ownership.
The assigned claims plan disqualifies any vehicle owner who fails to insure the vehicle from participating in the assigned claims plan. See Minn. Stat. § 65B.64, subd. 3. Also disqualified are “[p]ersons, whether or not related by blood or marriage, who dwell and function together with the owner [of an uninsured vehicle] as a family.” Id. These provisions do not apply if the owner of the uninsured vehicle demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence “to have [not] contemplated the operation or use of the vehicle.” Id. Saengko argued that because his brother had nothing to do with the vehicle (other than remain on the title with his estranged girlfriend), he was entitled to coverage. The district court agreed, but the court of appeals reversed, concluding that under Minn. Stat. § 65B.64, subd. 3 (2014), there must be clear and convincing evidence that the owner did not contemplate the use or operation of his or her uninsured vehicle by anyone, not just Saengko’s brother. Because the statute was unambiguous, and the estranged girlfriend was using the Explorer, but not insuring it, Saengko was disqualified from benefits.
While this result might appear harsh, it is consistent with an over-arching public policy in Minnesota that vehicles garaged in this state must be properly insured as required by the No-Fault Act. If you have any questions concerning auto coverage or civil litigation in general, please contact Bob Kuderer, Greg Kuderer, Matt Johnson, or Tom Brock.