Cousins v. Dennis

In Cousins v. Dennis, 298 Ark. 310, 767 S.W.2d 296 (1989), Tracy Cousins was injured at school when she was struck in the left eye by a rock which was thrown by a bush-hog mower pulled by a tractor. The tractor was driven by appellee L.D. Dennis who was mowing grass on the school grounds under the direction of the school maintenance supervisor. Tracy Cousins's father sued the Huntsville School District and L.D. Dennis alleging that their negligence caused his son's injury. The supreme court in Cousins addressed the same issue that is raised in the present appeal -- whether the school district was required, pursuant to Ark. Code Ann. 21-9-303, to insure the vehicle that was involved in the accident. Cousins argued that the tractor used by the school district was a motor vehicle within the meaning of Ark. Code Ann. 21-9-303. Cousins relied on Thompson v. Sanford, 281 Ark. 365, 663 S.W.2d 932 (1984), where the Dardanelle School District was held liable for negligence of its employee who was using a tractor on a highway when it struck a motorcycle. The supreme court was quick to dismiss Cousins's reliance on Thompson because the court never addressed the issue of whether a tractor is a motor vehicle under Ark. Code Ann. 21-9-303. The Huntsville School District argued that the tractor is not a motor vehicle that is required to be insured under Ark. Code Ann. 21-9-303. The supreme court reasoned that a tractor is excepted from registration laws under Ark. Code Ann. 27-14-703 (Repl. 1994) as an implement of husbandry. The supreme court held that the school district was not required to insure its tractor under Ark. Code Ann. 19-10-303(a) because the vehicle was not required to be registered under Arkansas law. The supreme court discussed its interpretation of the relevant statutes as follows: In construing 21-9-303(a), it is tempting to conclude that since the General Assembly failed to mention the vehicle registration statutes, those registration laws do not apply and, thus, a political subdivision should insure every motor vehicle it owns, registered or not. Such a construction would be erroneous for several reasons. One reason is that the language in 21-9-303(a) specifically refers to the entire Motor Vehicle Responsibility Act, which, as we previously have discussed, relies, in turn, upon Arkansas's vehicle registration and licensing laws. Another, and more important reason, is if Arkansas's vehicle registration laws are not considered when construing 21-9-303(a), absurd results would be reached. For example, if we limited the construction of 21-9-303(a) to require political subdivisions to carry liability insurance on all motor vehicles meeting the definition found in 27-19-206, a self-propelling riding lawn mower would qualify, thereby requiring the school district to include its mowers under liability coverage. This same rationale would include any self-propelled vehicle even though it is not designed or used primarily for transportation of persons or property. If we were to construe 21-9-303(a) without considering all relevant provisions of Arkansas's vehicle registration laws and Motor Vehicle Responsibility Act, another absurdity would arise by requiring political subdivisions to acquire liability insurance coverage on vehicles, which no one else in the state would be required to insure. We decline any interpretation of 21-9-303(a) that would result in an absurdity or injustice. Ragland v. Alpha Aviation, Inc., 285 Ark. 182, 686 S.W.2d 391 (1985). We believe the General Assembly, in requiring political subdivisions to purchase motor vehicle liability insurance, never intended non-registered vehicles to be covered. In passing 21-9-303, the legislature undoubtedly was aware of how Arkansas's Motor Vehicle Responsibility Act and vehicle registration laws worked together in requiring security deposits and liability insurance coverage only on those vehicles which are subject to registration. In keeping with this view, we have held that in construing any statute, we should place it beside other statutes relevant to the subject and give it a meaning and effect derived from the combined whole. City of Fort Smith v. Brewer, 255 Ark. 813, 502 S.W.2d 643 (1973). In sum, in applying Arkansas's registration laws, we find, as may reasonably be expected, that mowers and other vehicles not designed for transportation purposes are designated as special mobile equipment and exempted from registration. Ark. Code Ann. 27-14-703(4) and 27-14-211 (1987). Thus, self-propelling mowers and other equipment not designed or intended for transportation purposes -- being exempt from registration are not required to comply with the security deposit or liability insurance provisions required under the Act. For the same reason, the Huntsville School District in the present case was not required to insure its tractor, because the vehicle is an implement of husbandry, which is specifically excluded from vehicle registration under 27-14-703(3). (Cousins, 298 Ark. at 314-15, 767 S.W.2d at 298-99.)