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Guntzviller v Detroit (COA – UNP 2/5/2019; RB #3841)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket # 338982; Unpublished
Judges Kelly, Riordan, Gadola; per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion 


STATUTORY INDEXING: 
Exception for Entering Into or Alighting From [§3106(1)(c)]
Causal Connection Requirement

TOPICAL INDEXING:


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s grant of summary disposition for Defendant City of Detroit (“Detroit”) because Plaintiff Sandra Guntzviller (“Guntzviller”) was not alighting from the parked bus within the meaning of MCL 500.3106, the parked bus was not being utilized as a motor vehicle when it was parked, and there was no casual connection between the injury and the parked vehicle.

Andre George (“George”) is a bus driver for Detroit and caused Guntzviller’s injuries by throwing her from the bus. Guntzviller attempted to enter onto the bus, but George tried to close the doors on Guntzviller because he recognized her as a person who previously harassed other passengers on the bus. George informed Guntzviller that she was not allowed on the bus and Guntzviller then sprayed George and another passenger with pepper spray. George physically removed Guntzviller from the bus and drove a short distance to seek medical treatment for himself and the passenger. The bus was parked when George removed Guntzviller from the bus. As a result of George’s action Guntzviller sustained several injuries including a rib injury and a collapsed lung. Guntzviller brought an action to receive PIP benefits under the No-Fault Act.

The Court found that Guntzviller was not entitled to first-party PIP benefits because she was excluded under the parked vehicle exception of MCL 500.3106. Under the No-Fault Act there are three exceptions to the parked vehicle exception (that is, there are three instances where a claimant may receive benefits from an injury that occurs from a parked vehicle). The exception at issues was MCL 500.3106(1)(c), which states in relevant part: “[T]he injury was sustained by a person while occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle.” The Court found that Guntzviller was not “alighting” from the bus because George carried her off from the bus. Guntzviller was no longer relying on the bus to support her body. Therefore, Guntzviller was not “alighting” from the bus and she was disqualified from PIP benefits.

“In this case, although the record is not entirely clear, a review of the record indicates that George physically removed plaintiff from the bus after plaintiff sprayed him with pepper spray, resulting in plaintiff being deposited somewhere outside the bus. Although plaintiff asserted below that George pushed her off the bus, plaintiff’s version of events given during her medical evaluations was that the bus driver carried her out of the bus, then threw her into either a cement planter or against a wall. Accepting either scenario, it appears that plaintiff incurred her injuries after being ejected from the bus, and when she was no longer relying on the bus to support her body.”

The Court also found that the injury did not arise out of the “ownership, operation, maintenance or use of the parked motor vehicle as a motor vehicle.” The Court cited to McKenzie v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 458 Mich 214, 215; 580 NW2d 424 (1998), which explained that any injury related to a parked car must fit into one of the exemptions for the motor vehicle exemption and the activity at the time of the injury must be closely related to “the transportational function” of the automobile. Here, the Court found that Guntzviller’s injuries arose out of George’s actions. George’s assaultive actions caused the injury, not the bus. Therefore, the injury was not closely related to the transporational function of the bus.

“In this case, at the time of her alleged injuries, plaintiff was engaged in the ramifications of her spraying pepper spray on the bus driver and another bus passenger. The encounter between plaintiff and George began when she attempted to board the bus, arguably an activity related to the transportational function of the bus. But plaintiff’s injuries arose from George’s assault. Even though the assault may have been “motivated by closely antecedent events that involved the use of the motor vehicle as a motor vehicle,” the assault in this case, as in Morosini, was a separate occurrence. Plaintiff was not injured by her attempt to board the bus; she was injured by ‘another person’s rash and excessive response to these events.’”

Finally, the Court found that the injury was not casually connected to the parked bus because it was not more than “incidental, fortuitous, or but for” causation. The Court explained that any injury related to a parked vehicle must have a causal relationship that is more than “incidental, fortuitous, or but for.” The Court found that the triggering event for the injury began on the bus, but the injury was a result of Gunzviller’s actions to pepper spray George and a passenger. The backdrop was the bus, but the injury could have arisen in any location following an assaultive behavior.

“Although her encounter with George began in the entrance to the bus, one can safely speculate that plaintiff would have incurred similar injuries upon pepper spraying George, or perhaps anyone, in virtually any location. The fact that the events triggering this exchange began in the parked bus and concluded near the parked bus was, without question, merely “incidental, fortuitous, or ‘but for.’” So, although the bus was the backdrop of the assault, the connection in this case between plaintiff’s alleged injuries and the use of the bus as a motor vehicle was insufficient to impose liability under the no-fault act. Summary disposition was therefore properly granted.”

The Court thus upheld the trial court’s grant of summary disposition.

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