Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #362304; Unpublished
Judges Patel, Cavanagh, and Redford; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Exception for Loading / Unloading [§3106(1)(b)]
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Michigan Brain & Spine Surgery Center’s (“Michigan Brain & Spine”) action for no-fault PIP benefits against Defendant American Alternative Insurance Corporation (“American Alternative”). The Court of Appeals held that Michigan Brain & Spine’s patient, Djerdj Djeljaj, was entitled to PIP benefits for the injuries he sustained when paramedics dropped his stretcher while trying to load him into the back of an ambulance. The stretcher constituted “property being lifted onto the vehicle in the loading or unloading process” for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1)(b)—an exception to the No-Fault Act’s “parked vehicle exclusion.”
Djerdj Djeljaj was being transferred from one medical facility to another when EMS personnel dropped his stretcher as they attempted to push it into the back of an ambulance. Djeljaj suffered injuries as a result of the incident and sought PIP benefits thereafter from American Alternative. American Alternative denied the claim based on the No-Fault Act’s “parked-vehicle exclusion,” then moved for summary disposition in the lawsuit Djeljaj’s filed against it as a result. The trial court granted American Alternative’s motion, ruling that Djeljaj’s injuries did not satisfy the elements of the parked vehicle exception set forth in MCL 500.3106(1)(b) because (1) Djeljaj did not own or possess the property (the stretcher) being lifted onto the vehicle; (2) Djeljaj, himself, was not the one lifting the property onto the vehicle; and (3) Djeljaj’s injuries were caused not by his contact with the property being lifted onto the vehicle, but rather his contact with the ground when he fell.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that Djeljaj was entitled to PIP benefits based on the plain language of MCL 500.3106(1)(b): his injury was a direct result of physical contact with property—i.e., the stretcher—being lifted onto the vehicle in the loading process.
As for the trial court’s determination that MCL 500.3106(1)(b) requires the injured person to own the property being lifted onto the vehicle, the Court of Appeals noted that this was a misunderstanding of the law, and that there is no such requirement.
“Concerning the first ‘requirement,’ the trial court misconstrued Kemp. The critical issues before the Kemp Court were whether the plaintiff’s injury was closely related to the transportational function of his motor vehicle and whether the injury had the requisite causal relationship to the parked motor vehicle. Id. at 251. There is no indication that whether the plaintiff’s personal items constituted property was ever in dispute. Rather, it appears that the Supreme Court commented on that matter in the interest of complete analysis and without any intention to establish a binding rule of law requiring that the property at issue be owned or possessed by the plaintiff. See Griswold Props, LLC v Lexington Ins Co, 276 Mich App 551, 557-558; 741 NW2d 549 (2007) (‘It is a well-settled rule that statements concerning a principle of law not essential to determination of the case are obiter dictum and lack the force of an adjudication.’) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Indeed, such a conclusion would be at odds with the plain language of MCL 500.3106(1)(b), which contains no words mandating an interest in the property beyond the requirement of ‘physical contact’ with ‘property being lifted or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.’”
As for the trial court’s determination that MCL 500.3106(1)(b) was not applicable because Djeljaj, himself, was not the one lifting the property onto the vehicle, the Court noted that there is no such requirement in either the statute or the caselaw.
“The trial court also found MCL 500.3106(1)(b) inapplicable because Djeljaj was not actively engaged in lifting the property—that is, the stretcher—into the ambulance. This reasoning is again unavailing because neither the plain statutory language nor Kemp imposes such a requirement. The exception in subsection (1)(b) states only that the injury must be ‘a direct result of physical contact with . . . property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.’ MCL 500.3106(1)(b). If the Legislature intended to limit the availability of PIP benefits to parties who were injured in the act of lifting or lowering property from the vehicle, it could surely have chosen more precise language to reflect that intent.”
As for the trial court’s determination that MCL 500.3106(1)(b) was not applicable because Djeljaj’s injuries were caused by his contact with the ground, not the property being lifted onto the vehicle, the Court of Appeals noted that that same argument was rejected in Adanalic v Harco Nat’l Ins Co, 309 Mich App 173 (2015).
“The trial court’s final reason for granting summary disposition with respect to this issue was that Djeljaj’s injuries were caused not by his contact with the stretcher, but by his contact with the ground when the stretcher overturned. This Court has already rejected the same flawed reasoning. In Adanalic v Harco Nat’l Ins Co, 309 Mich App 173, 177-178; 870 NW2d 731 (2015), the plaintiff was injured in the process of transferring a loaded pallet from a disabled vehicle to his own semi-trailer. The plaintiff used straps attached to the pallet to pull it across a ramp from one vehicle to the other. Id. at 178. When the pallet fell from the ramp while the plaintiff remained attached to it by the straps, he too fell. Id. The trial court rejected the defendant’s contention that the plaintiff was not entitled to PIP benefits because his injuries arose from contact with the ground, rather than the pallet. Id. at 182. Concluding that the trial court’s analysis was consistent with the statutory language, this Court affirmed. Id. It reasoned that the defendant’s position attempted to ‘fundamentally rewrite the statute to state that a plaintiff’s injury must occur as a result of being struck by the property being loaded or unloaded,’ when the plain language required only that ‘there be ‘physical contact’ with the property being loaded and that the physical contact ‘directly result’ in injury.’ Id. The Court agreed that the plaintiff’s injury was a direct result of contact with the pallet, explaining, ‘While hitting the ground when falling occurs at a different instant than the moment the fall begins, it begs credulity (and the law of gravity) to suggest that a fall ending in impact with the ground is not a direct process.’”
As for American Alternative’s argument that Djeljaj failed to establish that his injury satisfied MCL 500.3106’s “transportational functional element,” the Court noted that “[w]hen a person is injured while entering a parked vehicle with the intention of traveling, the vehicle is being used as a motor vehicle as a matter of law.” And lastly, as for American Alternative’s argument that Djeljaj failed to establish that his injury had a causal relationship to the parked motor vehicle that is more than incidental, fortuitous, or but for, the Court noted that “it would be unreasonable to conclude that mishaps in [the process of loading people into ambulances] are not a foreseeable result of the normal use of an ambulance.”