December 28, 2011
In Frazier v. Allstate Ins Co, ___ Mich ___ (2011), the Michigan Supreme Court held that a motor vehicle’s door is not “equipment” for the purposes of the parked motor vehicle exception and further defined the term “alighting from” a vehicle.
In Frazier, the plaintiff slipped and fell on ice while in the process of closing her parked vehicle’s passenger door. Specifically, the plaintiff had first put her work bag, coffee, and purse in the passenger side of her truck in anticipation of immediately walking around to the driver’s side, entering the vehicle, and driving to work. After placing the items in her vehicle, the plaintiff had stepped aside to close the passenger door, and while in the process of shutting the door, with her hand still on the door, slipped and fell flat on her back.
MCL 500.3106 expressly delineates when an accidental bodily injury arises out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle if the vehicle is parked. It states:
1) Accidental bodily injury does not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle unless any of the following occur:
b) … [T]he injury was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, while the equipment was being operated or used, or property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.
c) … [T]he injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle.
Both the trial court and the court of appeals ruled that the plaintiff was entitled to PIP benefits because she was in physical contact with her car door, which is equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, and because she was alighting from the vehicle at the time of the injury.
The Michigan Supreme Court, in addressing the issue of whether a vehicle door was, in fact, “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle,” held that it was not. The Court noted that although a vehicle was composed of constituent parts, which could then create the potential for the definition of “equipment” that engulfed the entire vehicle, the language of the statute itself foreclosed that possibility. MCL 500.3106(1)(b) specifically stated that equipment must be “mounted on the vehicle.” Therefore, the Court reasoned that the constituent parts of a vehicle, such as the vehicle’s door, in and of themselves, could not be defined as “equipment” permanently mounted on a vehicle.
The Supreme Court, in addressing the definition of “alighting from” a vehicle, stated that because the statute stated that the injury must be sustained “while” alighting from a vehicle, this indicates that “alighting” does not occur in a single moment in time, but occurs as a result of a process. The process begins when a person initiates the descent from a vehicle and is completed when an individual has effectively descended from the vehicle and come to rest; in other words, when an individual had “successfully transferred full control of one’s movement from reliance upon the vehicle to one’s body.” The Court went on to explain that this is typically accomplished when “both feet are planted firmly on the ground,” but explained that this language only describes a “necessary condition” of alighting, without considering its “sufficiency.”
In short, the Court held that the no-fault insurer was not liable for PIP benefits as the circumstances of the plaintiff’s injury were not included in any of exceptions enumerated in MCL 500.3106(1).
From Your Friends at Garan Lucow Miller. . .
Wishing you the best for