Most claims under the Michigan No-Fault Act involve injuries resulting from a moving vehicle. However, injuries resulting from maintenance of a motor vehicle, and injuries occurring while a vehicle is parked may also be compensable. These scenarios are fact specific and must meet certain exceptions to the general rule that accidents resulting from a parked vehicle are not payable.
In, Karen Louise Bellmore v Friendly Oil Change, et al, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently addressed vehicle maintenance and the parked vehicle exception in a case where the plaintiff sought No-Fault PIP benefits after falling into an oil change service pit while maintenance was being performed on her vehicle.
Maintenance and the Parked Vehicle Exception
Under the Michigan No-Fault Act, “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… .” MCL 500.3105(1). Under this statute, maintenance must be performed on the vehicle and the injuries have to arise out of the maintenance. The definition of maintenance is given liberal construction, and a claimant is not required to be the person performing the maintenance. For an injury to arise out of maintenance of a motor vehicle, there must be a causal connection between the claimed injuries and the maintenance of the vehicle that is more than incidental, fortuitous, or but for.
Under MCL 500.3106, with exceptions, accident bodily injury does not arise out ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle. One of those exceptions, under section (1)(a), applies when “the vehicle was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of the bodily injury which occurred.” The word “parked” is not defined in the Act, a vehicle is not necessarily parked just because it is stopped, halted, standing or otherwise not in motion.
Background on Bellmore
On May 21, 2019, Karen Bellmore took her vehicle to Friendly Oil Change for routine maintenance. As the service technician was working, Ms. Bellmore exited her vehicle to look at a filter the technician wanted to replace. As she got close to the front of the vehicle, she slipped and fell into the oil change pit below.
Ms. Bellmore subsequently filed suit seeking No-Fault PIP benefits from State Farm Insurance Company for injuries she sustained in the fall. Ms. Bellmore filed a dispositive motion on her entitlement to benefits. She argued that she was engaged in “maintenance” because the service technician was going to show her a new filter for her vehicle at the time of her fall. Alternatively, Ms. Bellmore claimed she was entitled to benefits under the parked vehicle exception because her vehicle should have been parked completely over the pit and therefore posed an unreasonable risk of injury. The trial court agreed, holding that Ms. Bellmore’s injuries were compensable under the No-Fault Act.
The Court of Appeal’s Ruling & Analysis
The Michigan Court of Appeals, however, ruled differently. The purpose of the vehicle being at Friendly’s Oil Change was to have the oil and filters changed, and the technician was in the process of changing the filter when the accident occurred. Therefore, the Court agreed that maintenance was being performed on the vehicle as contemplated under the statute.
However, the Court concluded that Ms. Bellmore’s injuries did not arise out of the maintenance of the vehicle. Specifically, the Court noted that neither the filter itself, nor being asked to look at the filter by the service technician caused Ms. Bellmore’s injuries. Rather, Ms. Bellmore’s lack of attention to where she was walking caused her fall. Even if she slipped on something before she fell, there was no evidence that the substance came from the filter or her vehicle. The fact that her vehicle was being serviced at the time was only incidental to the circumstances.
The Court went on to find that the parked vehicle exception did not apply because the vehicle was not “parked” for the purposes of the No-Fault Act. The vehicle was involved in maintenance. Ms. Bellmore was contesting the positioning of her vehicle over the service pit during the performance of maintenance she had requested for her vehicle. Under these circumstances, since the vehicle was not “parked,” the Court concluded that her injuries did not arise out of the use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle.
This decision underscores the interplay between maintenance and the parked vehicle exception when analyzing the Michigan No-Fault Act. Essentially, a vehicle that is undergoing maintenance is not “parked” for purposes of the statute. Therefore, the parked vehicle exception does not apply. Furthermore, in order to be compensable, any injuries sustained must have a causal connection to the maintenance being performed, requiring an analysis of the unique facts and circumstances of the case. In this case, there was no evidence connecting the injuries to the maintenance. However, it may have been a different case had Ms. Bellmore slipped on oil that came from the filter or the vehicle, or another circumstance more closely connected to the vehicle.
Karen Louise Bellmore v Friendly Oil Change, et al., published opinion of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued May 12, 2022 (Docket No. 357660)