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A Better Partnership
December 28, 2011

MSC Opinion: Frazier v. Allstate Insurance Company

Plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on a patch of ice while closing the passenger door of her vehicle, after placing some items in the passenger compartment. The Michigan Supreme Court determined that the defendant insurer is not liable to plaintiff for personal protection insurance benefits under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., because plaintiff's injury did not arise out of the use of a parked vehicle under MCL 500.3106(1). In a memorandum opinion in Frazier v. Allstate Ins Co, Nos. 142545, 142547, four justices of the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for further proceedings.

MCL 500.3105(1) provides that: "Under personal protection insurance an insurer is liable to pay benefits for accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, subject to the provisions of this chapter." In cases of a parked vehicle, the next section of the act, MCL 500.3106, explains that accidental bodily injury does not arise unless an express exception is met, such as "(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 "(c) ... [T]he injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle." MCL 500.3106(1)(b)-(c). The majority determined that plaintiff's injury was not "a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle ..." under MCL 500.3106(1)(b) because she was in contact of the door of the vehicle at the time of her injury, which constitutes contact with the vehicle itself rather than with "equipment" mounted on the vehicle. The majority further determined that plaintiff was not in the process of "alighting from" the vehicle under MCL 500.3106(1)(c), because before her injury, plaintiff had been standing with both feet firmly on the ground outside of the vehicle and she was in no way reliant upon the vehicle itself - in other words, "[a]t the time of her injury, plaintiff had already alighted."

Justice Marilyn Kelly dissented from the majority's decision because in her view, plaintiff was "alighting" from her vehicle within the meaning of MCL 500.3106(1)(c) when she was injured. Accordingly, Justice Kelly opined that the trial court correctly denied defendant's motion for a directed verdict on this issue, which the Court of Appeals properly affirmed, and as such, she would deny defendant's application for leave to appeal. Justice Kelly argues that alighting from a vehicle, for which there is no statutory definition, is a process that may or may not be complete when a person has both feet on the ground. Justice Kelly determined that there was sufficient evidence from which the jury could reasonably conclude that plaintiff was alighting from her vehicle when she was injured. Justice Cavanagh joined Justice Marilyn Kelly's dissenting opinion.

Justice Hathaway issued a separate dissenting opinion explaining that leave to appeal was not granted in this case, but rather oral argument was heard to determine whether to grant the application or take other action. Justice Hathaway would deny leave to appeal because she is not persuaded that the Michigan Supreme Court should take any further action in "this unique, fact-specific case that should have no precedential value."

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