Mich. Court: Allstate Not Liable in Broken-Ankle Accident

The Michigan Supreme Court has ruled that Allstate Insurance is not obligated to pay personal injury protection (PIP) benefits to a policyholder who slipped and fell on ice while closing the passenger door of her parked vehicle.

In an opinion that focused on the questions of when someone can be considered to have “alighted from” an automobile and whether a car door should be considered part of a vehicle or “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle,” the high court ruled 4-3 that Mona Lisa Frazier is not entitled to PIP benefits under the terms of the state’s no-fault automobile insurance coverage system.

Judge's gavelFrazier had just put her work bag and coffee mug inside her car one morning in December 2005 and was shutting the passenger door when she fell and broke her ankle. She filed for benefits under her Allstate PIP insurance policy shortly after the incident.

The company began making payments but ceased after paramedics who had been at the scene testified that Frazier had likely been walking in the carport and not touching the vehicle when she slipped and fell.

Under Michigan’s no-fault system, PIP benefits may be awarded for injury accidents involving a parked car, but only if an injury is “a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” or the person was hurt while “occupying, entering into or alighting from the vehicle.”

After Allstate cut off her benefits, Frazier sued the company and a trial court sided with her, ordering the coverage provider to pay her $433,655. An appeals court upheld that decision.

The high court overturned that decision and sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings.

In an opinion handed down last week that relied in part on dictionary definitions in the absence of statutory definitions or relevant case law, the majority found that Frazier’s touching of the door at the time she fell constituted contact with the vehicle itself, rather than with any equipment mounted on it. And the majority found that, because Frazier was standing outside the vehicle, with both feet planted firmly on the ground, she had already alighted from the auto.

The opinion did not broach the question of whether Frazier was actually touching the door when she fell.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Marilyn J. Kelly wrote that there was sufficient evidence for the trial jury to “have concluded that plaintiff was alighting from her vehicle when she was injured.”

Kelly took issue with the majority’s reasoning that Frazier had alighted from her car, reasoning that closing the passenger door was part of the process of exiting the vehicle and not something done afterward.

Opening or closing a car door “is a function of entering or alighting from the vehicle,” Kelly wrote.  “There was sufficient evidence for the jury to have concluded as it did that plaintiff was alighting from her vehicle when she was injured and that she is entitled to no-fault benefits.”

About Matthew Morisset
Matthew Morisset is a proud alumnus of the University of Redlands, where he obtained a degree in English Literature. Utilizing his passion for analysis and writing, Matthew looks for important trends in the auto insurance industry and their implications for consumers and the market as a whole.

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