Court rules Wayne County lawsuit for benefits for back injury from unloading parked car under No-Fault law’s “parked motor vehicle exception” can proceed
Generally, Michigan’s No-Fault law guarantees medical care and wage loss benefits for people who have been injured in a car crash.
But under certain, limited circumstances, a person can also collect auto No-Fault PIP, or Personal Injury Protection, benefits if he’s injured while using a parked car.
A recent ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court on the No-Fault law’s “parked motor vehicle exception” makes clear how important this legal right is — and how car insurance companies may also try to manipulate the parked car exception law to shirk their legal duty to injury victims.
As an auto accident attorney, that last part – insurers trying to get out of their contractual promises to pay valid legal No Fault claims – is something I’m far too familiar with. Without a fraud protection authority this state, there are a myriad of ways that car insurance companies in Michigan try to take advantage of to avoid these contractual obligations, abuse motor vehicle accident victims, and attempt to distort the plain meaning of our auto No Fault laws.
The ruling in Kemp v. Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan is a perfect example of this.
How a back injury from unloading a parked car may qualify for No-Fault benefits
Dan Kemp injured his back when he unloaded his “briefcase, overnight bag, thermos, and lunch box [from] behind the driver’s seat of his 2010 Chevy Silverado 1500 extended cab truck” in his driveway after returning home from work.
He sought No-Fault medical benefits from his auto insurance company, Farm Bureau, under the “parked motor vehicle exception” (MCL 500.3106(1)(b)), which provides that:
A person injured in an accident arising “out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked motor vehicle” is entitled to No-Fault benefits if “the injury was a direct result of … property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.”
Not surprising, Farm Bureau — which has previously made our list of the Worst Auto Insurance Companies and will likely be included in our forthcoming edition — refused to pay Kemp his No Fault insurance benefits.
The case went up to the Michigan Supreme Court, and in its 4-3 opinion in Kemp v. Farm Bureau General Insurance Company of Michigan, said two of three major issues in the case needed to be decided by a jury:
“We hold that plaintiff [who “allegedly sustained” injuries “while unloading personal belongings from his parked vehicle”] created an issue of fact regarding whether he satisfied the parked motor vehicle exception in § 3106(1)(b) and the corresponding causation requirement of the three-step framework used to analyze PIP coverage for injuries related to parked motor vehicles … Therefore, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.”
Importantly, the justices also clarified that “the transportational function requirement” — which is the third major issue in a parked-vehicle case — is satisfied “as a matter of law” by evidence that:
“[U]nloading property [e.g., “personal effects”] from a vehicle upon arrival at a destination constitutes use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle and satisfies the transportational function requirement.”
Specifically, the Supreme Court majority said that, because Mr. Kemp “sustained an injury while unloading his belongings from his vehicle upon arriving at his house,” he had “as a matter of law” satisfied the “transportational function” requirement, i.e., that his injury arose from using the parked car “as a motor vehicle.”
Does a back injury from unloading a parked car satisfy the other No-Fault requirements?
The Supreme Court ruled:
- Kemp “established a question of fact [for a jury] as to whether his injury [resulting from lowering his “bundled-together briefcase, overnight bag, thermos, and lunch box” from his vehicle to the ground] falls within the parked motor vehicle exception … because it ‘was a direct result of physical contact with … property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading or unloading process.’”
- Kemp “has raised a question of fact [for a jury] regarding whether his injury [“suffered while he was unloading his property from his vehicle upon his arrival home”] had a causal relation to the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle that was more than incidental, fortuitous, or but for.”