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Hepner v Aetna Casualty & Surety Company; (COA-UNP, 1/07/1997; RB #1910)


Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 189083; Unpublished  
Judges Fitzgerald, Holbrook, and E. R. Post; Unanimous; Per Curiam  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt   

Exclusion for Vehicles Considered Parked [§3106(1)]  
Exception for Entering Into or Alighting From [§3106(1)(c)]  
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]

Not Applicable   

In this per curiam unpublished decision in a case for no-fault first party benefits, the Court of Appeals upheld a jury verdict for plaintiff where the circumstantial evidence showed that the plaintiff was injured while entering into his vehicle. Under the facts presented, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court's grant of denial of motions for summary disposition, judgment notwithstanding the verdict, and a new trial.

Plaintiff was discovered lying unconscious in the parking lot of a bar where he had consumed two alcoholic drinks. He was found on the ground next to the driver's side door of his car, which was open. The parking lot was icy at the time. Plaintiff was partially under the vehicle, with his car keys found lying next to his body. Plaintiff sustained a serious closed head injury and skull fracture which rendered him incapacitated and unable to recount what had happened.

The Court of Appeals found that the trial court had properly denied defendant's motion for summary disposition on the grounds that viewing the facts most favorable to plaintiff, the non-moving party, reasonable minds could conclude that plaintiff was injured while in the process of entering his car, and therefore was entitled to no-fault coverage pursuant to §3106. Under the circumstantial evidence presented. Defendant also claimed that the trial court should have granted it summary disposition, because plaintiff failed to plead or submit evidence to show that plaintiffs injuries were causally connected to the use, maintenance or ownership of the vehicle, as required by §3105. However, the Court of Appeals, citing the Michigan Supreme Court's decision in Winter v ACIA, 433 Mich 446; 446 NW2d 132 (1989) (Item No. 1293), held that once it is proven that a person's injuries were sustained while "occupying, entering into or alighting from" a parked vehicle, it is not necessary to show that the vehicle was being used "as a motor vehicle" as required under §3105(1).

The Court of Appeals also held that the trial court properly denied defendant's motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and a new trial, noting that on appeal, the court will accord great deference to the trial court's determination that a verdict was not against the great weight of the evidence. Under the circumstantial evidence presented in this case, the court held that reasonable jurors could have honestly reached different conclusions, and therefore, neither the trial court nor the Court of Appeals could properly substitute its judgment for that of the jury.

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