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Michigan Supreme Court Clarifies Meaning of "Equipment" and "Alighting" in MCL 500.3106

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Joseph E. Kozely, Jr.
Foster Swift No-Fault E-News
January 4, 2012

The Michigan Supreme Court held in an opinion handed down on December 22, 2011, that the door of an automobile is not "equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle" for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1)(b) and clarified the meaning of "alighting" for MCL 500.3106(1)(c).  Frazier v Allstate Insurance Co. (Docket Nos 142545, 142547), (Lawyers Weekly No. 06-77163).

At issue was whether Allstate Insurance Company was liable to plaintiff for personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits under the no-fault act for injuries sustained when Plaintiff slipped and fell on a patch of ice while closing the passenger door of her vehicle.  She had placed a few personal items in the passenger compartment via the passenger door, stood up, and stepped out of the way of the door when she closed the door and fell.

The trial court denied a defense motion for summary disposition, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

It was undisputed that the vehicle was a parked vehicle and that Plaintiff thus had to meet one of the requirements of MCL 500.3106(1). The dispute centered on MCL 500.3106(1)(b) and (1)(c):

  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:
    1. ...[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. ...
    2. ...[T]he injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle.

The majority concluded that the term "equipment" as used in the statute did not include the "constituent parts" of the vehicle.  Plaintiff's contact with the door did not meet (1)(b) because the door was not "equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle." (Slip Opinion, pp. 2-3)

The majority next focused on "alighting," and concluded that:

... before her injury, plaintiff had been standing with both feet planted firmly on the ground outside of the vehicle; she was entirely in control of her body’s movement, and she was in no way reliant upon the vehicle itself. Therefore, she was not in the process of ‘alighting from’ the vehicle. MCL 500.3106(1)(c). At the time of her injury, plaintiff had already alighted.
Slip Opinion, p. 4

Three justices dissented in two separate dissenting opinions.

This opinion is important because it clarifies the meaning of terms that are often in dispute when a claimant seeks no fault benefits for injuries from a slip and fall outside a parked vehicle.