McMullen v Motors Insurance Corporation, et al; (COA-PUB, 12/20/1993; RB #1690)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No.140994; Published  
Judges Brennan, Corrigan, and R. C. Anderson; Unanimous; Opinion by Judge Corrigan  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  203 Mich App 102; Link to Opinion alt   

Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]  
Exclusion for Vehicles Considered Parked [§3106(1)]  
Exception for Vehicle Maintenance [§3106]

Legislative Purpose and Intent   

In this unanimous published Opinion by Judge Corrigan, the Court of Appeals decided an issue of first impression as to whether a "passer by" injured by escaping steam from a car radiator was entitled to no-fault benefits. The Court of Appeals held in favor of the injured bystander and therefore reversed the trial court decision denying benefits.  

Plaintiff was injured when he was burned by hot water and steam escaping from the radiator of an automobile owned by his brother. At the time of the accident, the car was parked in the driveway of plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff’s brother was attempting to fix a problem that had caused the car to overheat on. a recent trip. As plaintiff walked past the car, his brother loosened the radiator cap and allowed the steam to escape. As a result, plaintiff suffered severe burns on his face, neck, and chest.  

Plaintiff’s claim for no-fault benefits was made against Motors Insurance Company, his brother's no-fault insurer. MIC denied the claim on the grounds that plaintiff’s injuries did not arise out of the "ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle" within the meaning of §3105(1). Further, MIC argued that the parked vehicle provisions of §3106 preclude benefits because under the terms of that section, "accidental bodily injury does not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a parked vehicle" unless certain exceptions apply.  

In upholding plaintiff’s entitlement to benefits, the Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court decision of Miller v Auto-Owners Insurance Company, 411 Mich 633 (1981) was controlling on the issue of whether or not benefits are payable when injuries occur during the maintenance of a parked vehicle. The Miller court resolved this dispute by holding that coverage is available for injuries occurring during the maintenance of a parked vehicle, in spite of the language of §3106(1).  

Although MIC conceded that an individual who is injured while performing maintenance work on a motor vehicle is eligible for no-fault benefits, the insurance company contended that this coverage is limited only to the persons "actually performing maintenance" on the motor vehicle.

The Court of Appeals held that the situation presented whereby a passerby is injured as the direct result of maintenance performed by someone else was a question of first impression. Although no Michigan cases have addressed this issue, the Court of Appeals cited several decisions from other jurisdictions which found coverage under similar circumstances, Indiana Insurance Company v Winston, 377 So2d 718 (1980); Eichelbergerv Warner, 434 A2d 747 (1981); Unsatisfied Claim & Judgment Board v Clifton, 283 A2d 350 (1971).  

The Court of Appeals held that the no-fault act is remedial in nature, and its remedial nature would be advanced by broadly construing its provisions to effectuate coverage. Nothing in the language of the no-fault act requires that the injured person be the individual actually maintaining the vehicle in question.

The Court of Appeals also addressed defendant's argument that the provisions of §3106, nevertheless, precluded coverage. Plaintiff argued that exception §3106(l)(b) applied and allowed for recovery under that provision where "the injury was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle while the equipment was being operated or used." Although unnecessary to its decision, the Court of Appeals held that this exception did not apply to the instant case, since plaintiff’s injury was not the direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle.

Based upon the court's conclusion that plaintiff was not precluded from benefits under the provisions of §3105, the decision of the trial court was reversed.