Mich. Court to Consider Case Involving $433,000 Broken Ankle

The Michigan Supreme Court will hear arguments later this month that could help determine whether Allstate Insurance will be required to pay more than $433,000 to a woman who allegedly slipped and broke her ankle after loading her car before leaving for work.

The accident took place when the woman, Mona Lisa Frazier, was putting her work bag and other items into the passenger side of her car one morning in December 2005. The car was said to be on a steep incline, and there were icy patches on the ground.

Frazier told Allstate and the court that she finished putting her things in the car and stepped back a little to close the car door and that when this happened, she slipped and broke her ankle.

According to the state Supreme Court, “Frazier had surgery to repair her ankle but never reported to her job and reported that she experienced pain for years after the accident.”

Saying that her injuries were in connection to the use of the car, Frazier filed for benefits under her Allstate personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy shortly after the incident.

Allstate began making payments, but soon stopped after testimony from paramedics who arrived at the scene made it seem that she likely was not touching the car when she fell but rather slipped while walking in the carport. Frazier repeatedly testified that she had her hand on the car door when she took the spill.

And it turns out that the court’s view of whether Frazier was actually touching the car door could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars for the insurance company.

A jury that heard the case in 2008–after Frazier sued Allstate for cutting off her benefits–decided that the course of events entitled Frazier to compensation, and the trial judge entered a $433,655 judgment.

But after a round of appeals, Allstate is asking the state Supreme Court to take a second look at the case, which will require grappling with some tough questions about auto insurance coverage according to Michigan law.

Case Hinges on Esoteric Definitions

The outcome of the case mostly rests on the meaning of two legal phrases: “direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” and “alighting from the vehicle.”

To qualify for benefits under Michigan PIP insurance laws, both of these phrases have to be pertinent to this case.

That’s because, typically, PIP benefits are not awarded for accidents that occur in relation to a parked car.

But there are two exceptions that Frazier and her legal counsel say apply to her case, according to the court. Those exceptions are:

1. if the injury is “a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” and

2. if the person was injured in the course of “alighting from the vehicle”

Whether Allstate is ultimately required to make good on Frazier’s PIP claim depends on whether Frazier is determined to have been touching the door when she fell, whether the door of a truck constitutes a piece of “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” and whether Frazier was technically “alighting from” her truck when the accident happened.

The Michigan Supreme Court will the hear the case on Oct. 27 as part of the “Court Community Connections” program.

About Ben Zitney
Benjamin Zitney has been covering the auto insurance industry for the past 2.5 years. Before coming to Online Auto Insurance News, he produced an extensive company history of the 30-year-old California Joint Powers Insurance Authority and worked at the Cal State Long Beach Daily Forty-Niner as a reporter, copy editor and news editor.

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