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Vibra of Southeastern Mich, LLC v Auto-Owners Ins Co, et al (UNP – COA 7/22/2021; RB # 4298)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #355287; Unpublished
Judges Riordan, Kelly, and Shapiro; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion; Link to Dissent


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Exception for Loading / Unloading [§3106(1)(b)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not Applicable


SUMMARY:
In this 2-1 unpublished per curiam decision (Riordan, dissenting), the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance Company’s (“Auto-Owners”) motion for summary disposition, as well as its order granting Plaintiff Vibra of Southeastern Mich, LLC’s (“Vibra”) motion for summary disposition. Specifically, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Randall Baran, Vibra’s patient and Auto-Owners’ insured, was entitled to no-fault PIP benefits for injuries he sustained when the rear liftgate fell on his head as he unloaded items from his vehicle. The Court of Appeals held that Baran was entitled to no-fault PIP benefits under the parked-vehicle exception set forth in MCL 500.3106(1)(b), because his injuries were the direct result of physical contact with the property he was unloading from the vehicle’s trunk at the moment the rear liftgate fell on his head.

Upon returning home from a party with his wife, Randall Baran got out of his vehicle and went to the trunk area to retrieve dirty dishes that had been used at the party. As Baran began retrieving the dishes, the rear liftgate fell on his head, causing him to sustain a serious brain injury. He received treatment for his brain injury from Vibra, who then filed a claim against Auto-Owners based on an assignment it had obtained from Baran. After Auto-Owners denied Vibra’s claim, Vibra filed the underlying first-party action in which both Vibra and Auto-Owners moved for summary disposition, “disputing the applicability of the parked vehicle exception contained in MCL 500.3106(1)(b).” The trial court ultimately ruled that Baran was entitled to no-fault PIP benefits pursuant to the parked-vehicle exception in MCL 500.3106(1)(b), thus denying Auto-Owners’ motion and granting Vibra’s.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, holding that MCL 500.3106(1)(b) did apply to the facts of this case even though the rear liftgate, not the property being unloaded from the vehicle at the time of injury—the dishes—was what inflicted the injury on Baran. 3106(1)(b) provides coverage when “the injury was the direct result of physical contact with . . . property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.” Auto-Owners argued, therefore, that 3106(1)(b) did not apply because the injury was not the direct result of physical contact with the dishes—the property being lowered from the vehicle in the unloading process. The Court of Appeals disagreed, relying on its previous decision in Adanalic v Harco Nat Ins Co, 309 Mich App 173 (2015). In Adalanic, a previous Court of Appeals panel held that the aforementioned clause of 3106(1)(b) “ ‘does not require that the property, itself, inflict the injuries. It only requires that the injuries directly result from physical contact with the property.’ ” In this case, the injuries directly resulted from physical contact with the dishes because, had Baran not been unloading them at that precise moment, the rear liftgate would not have fallen on his head and injured him.

In this case, Vawn testified that Randall bent over and reached into the rear of the vehicle in order to remove dishes from the vehicle. Thus, Vawn’s uncontradicted testimony established that Randall was unloading property from the vehicle. Defendants argue, however, that Randall’s injury was not the direct result of his contact with the dishes because he was not injured by the weight of the dishes or a movement he made in the unloading process; rather, he was injured by the falling liftgate. As discussed, MCL 500.3106(1)(b) does not require that the property itself cause the injury. Rather, it merely requires that ‘there be physical contact with the property being loaded [or unloaded] and that the physical contact directly results in the injury.’ Id. at 182. Randall would not have been within the trajectory of the falling liftgate absent his physical contact with the dishes he was unloading. Moreover, had Randall not been in the process of unloading the dishes, his hands would have been free to prevent the liftgate from striking him in the head. Accordingly, Randall’s contact with the dishes directly resulted in his injury.

Justice Riordan dissented, distinguishing this case from Adanalic and arguing that Adanalic did not apply because, in that case, the plaintiff was injured as a direct result of a pallet that he unloaded from a box truck falling from a loading ramp and injuring him. Thus, Justice Riordan argued that the property being unloaded from the motor vehicle in Adalanic was the direct result of the plaintiff’s injuries, whereas in this case, the property being unloaded from the motor vehicle—the dishes—was not.

In Adanalic, the plaintiff’s injury was the direct result of his physical contact with a pallet in the unloading and re-loading process from a disabled box truck onto a semi-trailer. 309 Mich App at 177. The plaintiff was pulling and loading pallets onto the semi-trailer by strapping them to his back. Id. at 178. One of the loaded pallets fell from the loading ramp and the pallet pulled Adanalic down, who was attached to it by straps, and in the process injured him. Id. Unlike the injury here, where Randall reached for Tupperware and the Grand Cherokee’s liftgate fell and struck him, independent of any connection with the Tupperware, the Adanalic plaintiff’s injuries were directly caused by loading a pallet, that was physically strapped to his back, which fell from a ramp suspended between two trucks, and pulled him to the ground. In the matter presently before us, again unlike that occurring from direct contact with the pallet strapped to the back of the Adanalic plaintiff, Randall’s injury was not the direct result of the plaintiff’s physical contact with the Tupperware being unloaded from the Grand Cherokee. As plaintiff recognizes, and the facts in the matter before us clearly show, the Tupperware being removed from the Jeep did not strike or otherwise injure Randall. Thus, Adanalic is neither analogous, nor controlling, in relation to the facts before us.

Justice Riordan also took exception with the trial court’s determination that MCL 500.3106(1)(c) applied to this case—a ruling the majority declined to address—because, in his opinion, Baran was not occupying, entering into, or alighting from the vehicle by reaching in to grab the dishes, and thus not entitled to claim benefits on that basis alone.

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