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United Southern Assurance Company v Aetna Life & Casualty Insurance Company; Michigan Court of Appeals; (COA-PUB, 5/21/1991; RB #1482)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 117975; Published  
Judges Reilly, Wahls, and Doctoroff; Unanimous; Per Curiam 
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  189 Mich App 485; Link to Opinion alt  


STATUTORY INDEXING:  
Nature and Scope of PPI Benefits (Property Damage and Loss of Use) [§3121(1)]  
General / Miscellaneous [§3123]

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Motor Vehicle Code (Definition of Parking) (MCL 257.38)   


CASE SUMMARY:  
In this unanimous per curiam Opinion, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's summary disposition in favor of plaintiffs on their claim for recovery of property protection benefits under the parked vehicle provisions of §3121 and §3123 of the No-Fault Act. The vehicle that sustained injury was a semi-tractor trailer that the driver pulled over onto the shoulder of westbound 1-96 in order to read a road map. The truck was not experiencing any mechanical difficulty. The driver brought the truck to a stop so that it was parallel to the solid white line marking the edge of the highway and set both the tractor and truck brakes. The tires closest to the main traveled portion of the highway were about 18 inches from the solid white line. The truck engine was running and the headlights, cab lights, marker lights, emergency flasher lights, and brake lights were all on. The semi-tractor trailer was in this stationary position for approximately two minutes when a drunk driver rear ended the semi-tractor causing physical damage to the rig.  

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling and held: (1) that the semi-tractor trailer was "parked" within the meaning of §3123(1 )(a); and (2) it was not parked in such a manner as to cause unreasonable risk of the damage which occurred. 

With regard to whether or not the semi-tractor was "parked," the court held that the trial court was correct in relying upon the definition of "parking" as found in §33 of the Motor Vehicle Code, which defines parking as "standing a vehicle, whether occupied or not, upon a highway, when not loading or unloading, except when making necessary repairs." The court noted that this Motor Vehicle Code definition is virtually identical to the definition of "park" as defined in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. The court stated that, "Dictionary definitions are appropriate in interpreting a statute." The dictionary defined "park" as "to bring to a stop and keep standing at the edge of a public way." Accordingly, the court stated, "We therefore find that the trial court did not err in ruling that 'parking means standing.' We agree with the trial court that, for purposes of §3123, a vehicle is 'parked' when it has been brought to a stop and is standing at the edge of a highway. This court has previously held that parking is a form of stopping."  

In finding that the semi-truck was not parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the injury that occurred, the court noted that generally such a determination is a matter of law for the trial court where the facts are undisputed. The court further examined two provisions of the Motor Vehicle Code (MCLA 257.672 and MCLA 257.59a) and rejected the contention that a distinction exists between vehicles stopped, parked, or standing on the shoulder of a highway due to an emergency or mechanical difficulty and vehicles that are stopped, parked, or standing on the shoulder of a highway for other reasons. In rejecting the significance of this distinction, the court stated:

"We do not believe that a determination of whether a parked vehicle creates an unreasonable risk of damage depends upon such a distinction. We find that the determination as to whether a parked vehicle creates an unreasonable risk of damage turns on the manner in which it is parked. Accordingly, even if the truck were parked on the shoulder in violation of MCLA 257.672, that violation is not a basis for concluding that the truck was parked so as to create an unreasonable risk of the damage which occurred."

The court also held that the trial court was correct in denying plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees under §3148 of the No-Fault Statute in light of the fact that the defendant's denial of benefits was not "unreasonable" as there was a legitimate question of statutory construction concerning the meaning of the word "parked" as used in §3123(1 )(a).  


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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