ATV Owners Vicariously Liable for Driver’s Negligence Under Minnesota Law

Under Minnesota’s “Safety Responsibility Act” found at Minn. Stat. § 169.09, subd. 5(a), a driver is deemed the agent of the owner and is therefore the owner is legally responsible for the negligence of the driver. When the legislature moved the Safety Responsibility Act from its prior location at Minn. Stat. § 170.54 to its new location in Minn. Stat. § 169.09, the definition of “motor vehicle” changed by virtue of the move. Previously, there was no definition in the Safety Responsibility section for a “motor vehicle” and so the caselaw adopted the definition found in the No-Fault Act which required that the vehicle be designed for use on public highways. Under the No-Fault analysis, ATVs were not considered motor vehicles and therefore not subject to the Safety Responsibility Act (See North Star Mut. Ins. Co. v. Raincloud,563 N.W.2d 270 (Minn. App. 1997)(decided prior to the Safety Responsibility Act being moved to § 169.09). The Minnesota Court of Appeals in Vee v. Ibrahim, 769 N. W.2d 770 (Minn. App. 2009), makes it clear that the definition of motor vehicle that is contained in Minn. Stat.  § 169.011, subd. 42, is the new applicable definition of a motor vehicle because it is contained in the same chapter as the new Safety Responsibility law. The definition contained in Minn. Stat. § 169.011, subd. 42, states “‘Motor vehicle’ means every vehicle which is self-propelled and every vehicle which is propelled by electric power obtained from overhead trolley wires. Motor vehicle does not include an electric personal assistive mobility device or vehicle moved solely by human power”. The Vee court explicitly rejects the definition contained in the No Fault Act as the controlling definition under the new Safety Responsibility law. According to the new definition, an ATV is clearly “self-propelled” and there is no requirement that it be designed for use on public highways.