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Amy v MIC General Insurance Corporation; (COA-PUB, 8/14/2003, RB #2398)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket Nos. 237055, 237056, 237379 and 237380; Published
Judges Whitbeck, Neff, and Donofrio; unanimous
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: 258 Mich. App. 94, Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING: 
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out of / Causation Requirement [3105(1)] 
Exception for Unreasonably Parked Vehicles [3106(1)(a)] 
Exception for Permanently Mounted Equipment 
Exception for Motorcycle Injuries [3114(5)] 
Equal Priority Situations [3114(6)]

TOPICAL INDEXING: 
Motor Vehicle Code (Definition of Parking)


CASE SUMMARY: 
In this unanimous published opinion by Judge Donofrio, the Court of Appeals interpreted the parked vehicle provisions of section 3106(1)(a) and the priority language of section 3114 to find that the insurers of both vehicles involved in a parked vehicle accident were responsible for payment of no-fault benefits to the driver and passenger of a motorcycle which struck a police cruiser stopped in the traveled portion of the roadway in response to a disabled vehicle.

In this case, plaintiff Amy was killed and his passenger Stewart received severe injuries while they were traveling on a motorcycle which encountered a disabled vehicle, behind which was a stopped police cruiser with flashers activated. Amy was unable to stop and struck the rear of the police cruiser. The disabled vehicle was not directly impacted in the collision.

The State Police cruiser was insured by the State of Michigan and the disabled vehicle was insured by MIC. Claims were brought against both insurers for no-fault benefits.

The police cruiser had stopped to provide assistance to another vehicle which had become disabled on Dixie Highway which consists of five lanes, two northbound, two southbound, and a center turn lane. There are no shoulders to the roadway. There is a curb. It was undisputed that when the vehicle became disabled, its driver maneuvered the vehicle into the right-hand lane near the curb. She then turned on her emergency flashers. When the State Trooper came upon the scene, he stopped behind the disabled vehicle, activated his emergency lights, placed his cruiser in park, and then left his vehicle running. The trooper advised the disabled vehicle operator that he would use his State Police car to push her disabled vehicle off the road. While the operator of the disabled vehicle was seated behind the steering wheel of her vehicle, awaiting a push from the trooper, the trooper walked back to his vehicle. However, before he could enter his vehicle, plaintiff’s decedent’s motorcycle crashed into the back of the police cruiser. The force of the impact pushed the police cruiser forward, but there was never any contact with the disabled vehicle.

The Court of Appeals determined that this case was controlled by the parked vehicle provisions of section 3106(1)(a) which provides:

“Accidental bodily injury does not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle unless any of the following occur:

(a) the vehicle was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the bodily injury which occurred.”

The court also interpreted the priority provisions of section 3114(5), which provides:

“A person suffering accidental bodily injury arising from a motor vehicle accident which shows evidence of the involvement of a motor vehicle while an operator or passenger of a motorcycle shall claim personal protection insurance benefits from insurers in the following order of priority:

(a) the insurer of the owner or registrant of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.

MIC argued on appeal that the disabled vehicle which it insured was a parked vehicle, but it was not parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of bodily injury within the meaning of 3106(1)(a). Further, MIC argued that its motor vehicle was not involved in a motorcycle/motor vehicle accident, because there was no direct contact between those two vehicles. Claimants Amy and Stewart argued to the contrary and alternatively suggested that the MIC insured vehicle was not parked by virtue of its location, or was exempt from the parked vehicle exclusion of section 3106 because the vehicle was being maintained so as to require the payment of no-fault benefits regardless of a 3106 analysis.

The Court of Appeals addressed the arguments by Amy and Stewart that the MIC insured disabled vehicle was not parked by virtue of its location. In addressing the meaning of the term “parked” the Court of Appeals stated:

“The term ‘parked’ is not defined in the No-Fault Act. The courts are to accord statutory words their ordinary and generally accepted meaning. Generally, a vehicle is parked if its wheels cannot move. Parking is a form of stopping. This court has utilized the definition of ‘parking’ in the Motor Vehicle Code with respect to no-fault issues. MCL 257.38 provides:

‘”Parking”’ means standing a vehicle, whether occupied or not, upon a highway, when not loading or unloading except when making necessary repairs.’

Further, this court has stated that the definitions of ‘parking’ in the Code and dictionary are practically equivalent. ‘Parked’ is defined as ‘a setting in an automatic transmission in which the transmission is in neutral and the brake is engaged’ or ‘to leave (a vehicle) in a certain place for a period of time.’ Random House Webster’s College Dictionary, page 948.”

The Court of Appeals rejected the claimants’ argument that the term “parked” should be by definition limited as a form of standing, specifically non-movement off the traveled portion of the highway. The claimants argued that non-movement on the traveled portion of the highway should be considered standing that is not included in the definition of “parked.” The Court of Appeals declined to relegate the determination of the status of a motor vehicle as “parked” to its location on the roadway.

The court next addressed the issue of whether or not there was the “involvement” of a motor vehicle in the accident within the meaning of the priority provisions of 3114(5)(a), which provides that the operator or passenger of a motorcycle shall claim no-fault benefits from the insurer of the owner or registrant of the motor vehicle “involved in the accident.”

In a lengthy analysis of the parked vehicle exclusion and the language of “involved in the accident” contained in section 3114(5), the Court of Appeals reviewed numerous previous cases addressing the interpretation of involvement of a motor vehicle in an accident and distilled six principles for application in such situations:

“1. If the motor vehicle was moving at the time of the accident, a vehicle that actively contributes to either the accident or injuries sustained is involved in the accident.

2. If the motor vehicle was standing, but not parked, at the time of the accident, such vehicle is involved in the accident if it is a cause of the injuries sustained, or constitutes a hazard or contributing hazard that results in the accident or injuries sustained.

3. If the motor vehicle was parked at the time of the accident, such vehicle is involved in the accident if it was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the bodily injury that occurred.

(a) A motor vehicle parked in the travel lane or extending into the travel lane of a highway is unreasonably parked because the vehicle’s position in or into the travel lane constitutes a hazard to other users of the highway. While so positioned, the vehicular hazard exerts a present, continuing, and influencing affect on other highway users and therefore is involved in a subsequent occurring accident.

(b) A motor vehicle parked off the roadway and not encroaching or blocking the traveled portion of the highway, or a motor vehicle properly parked in an area designated or intended for parking is not a hazard and therefore, not involved in a subsequent occurring accident.

4. If the motor vehicle is parked at the time of the accident, and the injury was the direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, while the equipment was being operated or used, or property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process, it is involved in the accident.

5. If the motor vehicle is parked at the time of te accident, a person injured while occupying, entering into or alighting from the vehicle suffers accidental bodily injury in a vehicle involved in the accident.

6. In multivehicle accidents, once it is shown that the bodily injury or damages sustained arose out of the operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle, the inquiry as to other involved motor vehicles looks to a broader and active causal nexus to the accident or injuries including any active influence on other involved vehicles that caused the accident or injuries.”

The court also addressed the argument by claimants that the MIC insured disabled vehicle was “engaged in maintenance” within the meaning of the entitlement provisions of 3105(1) which state that an insurer is liable to pay benefits for accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle subject to the provisions of this chapter. Plaintiff argued that this section avoided the parked vehicle exclusion found in 3106(1). In addressing this argument, the Court of Appeals noted the historical tension between 3105(1) and 3106(1) which was resolved in Miller v Auto-Owners Insurance Company, 411 Mich 633 (1981), which held that coverage is available for injuries that occur during the maintenance of a parked vehicle. The court further stated:

“A broad definition of maintenance advances the purposes of the No-Fault Act. While the term ‘maintenance’ suggests servicing or repairing of a motor vehicle, this court has expanded the term to include persons injured during the preparations for towing a stuck pickup truck, and to non-occupants injured awaiting a tow truck at the side of the road.”

In this case, however, the Court of Appeals rejected the argument of plaintiffs that the vehicle was being maintained and stated:

“Factually it was the state trooper’s intent to push the MIC insured vehicle from the traveled portion of the roadway to remove the hazard created by that vehicle’s presence. The pushing maneuver off the roadway had not yet commenced. While we question whether the concept of maintenance is implicated under the facts presented, the plaintiffs’ accident was a function of indirect maintenance at best. We agree with the trial court that there is an insufficient nexus between the MIC insured vehicle and plaintiffs’ injuries to award no-fault benefits on the theory of maintenance.”

The court also addressed the argument that because the motorcycle struck the rear bumper and tail lights of a motor vehicle, and the rear bumper and tail lights were permanently mounted as required, the injuries were a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle while the equipment was being operated or used, as provided in 3106(1)(b). In addressing the claimants’ argument for the permanent equipment exception, the Court of Appeals stated:

“Bumpers and tail lights are defined as integral parts of a motor vehicle. For this panel to adopt that equipment within the meaning of MCL 500.3106(1)(b) includes structures like bumpers or lights, the exception would swallow up the exclusion and make the exclusion nugatory. . . . To adopt plaintiffs’ interpretation of equipment permanently mounted is to disregard this Court’s obligation to effectuate the manifest intent of the Legislature as described in Miller.”

In summary, the Court of Appeals concluded that the disabled motor vehicle and the police cruiser were both parked upon the traveled portion of the highway at the time of the accident. The court further concluded that parking of a motor vehicle upon the traveled portion of the highway is a use of the motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. The court concluded that both vehicles occupied the traveled portion of the highway and constituted a hazard to the plaintiffs. Further, the hazard created by the disabled vehicle directly influenced the State Trooper to investigate, park his cruiser, and contribute to the hazard. Unreasonable parking equates to being involved in the accident that occurred, and a direct relationship is established between the unreasonable parking and involvement in the accident that occurred. The collision with the police cruiser and resultant injuries to plaintiffs arose out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. Therefore, the MIC (disabled vehicle) insured motor vehicle was involved in the accident within the meaning of 3106(1)(a) and 3114(5).

Further, the court interpreted section 3114(5)(a) as not to limit the obligation to pay no-fault benefits to the insurer of a single motor vehicle. The insurers of all vehicles involved in a motor vehicle accident with a motorcycle are obligated to share in the payment of no-fault benefits to an injured operator and passenger.

The Court of Appeals also addressed the argument of the State of Michigan, that because the police cruiser was privileged to park his vehicle pursuant to MCL 257.603 in response to the hazard, he was not unreasonably parked within the meaning of 3106. The Court of Appeals held that reliance on MCL 257.603 is misplaced. Although that statute allows an emergency vehicle to park under circumstances such as these to render assistance, and the emergency vitiates the otherwise illegality of the parking, nevertheless the reasonableness or unreasonableness of the parking is not predicated on legality, but upon the risks and hazards created for other users of the highway. Therefore, the privilege to park in an emergency pursuant to MCL 257.603 will not relieve the insurer of the emergency vehicle from the payment of no-fault benefits to the insured claimants.

The Court of Appeals held that pursuant to 3114(6), because MIC and the State of Michigan were in the same level of priority, they are both obligated to share equally in the payment of no-fault benefits to the claimants.

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