Car Maintenance Provides No-Fault Benefits
Woodring v. Phoenix Insurance Company
Michigan drivers involved in a car accident are entitled to Michigan no-fault benefits. These benefits range from the payment of wage loss benefits, to payment of all medical expenses to the payment to friends or medical professionals who assist a car accident victim in recovering from his or her injuries.
However, Michigan no-fault benefits are also payable in instances when somebody is injured performing even basic maintenance on a car.
When is the Insurance Company Liable?
Under the Michigan no-fault law, specifically MCL 500.3105(1), a car insurance carrier “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.” This language shows there must be a causal connection between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle that is more than incidental, fortuitous, or “but for.” The involvement of the car in the injury should be directly related to its character as a motor vehicle. Without a relation that is more than “but for,” incidental or fortuitous, there is no recovery of no-fault benefits.
No-Fault PIP Claim
This statute was analyzed recently in Woodring v. Phoenix Ins. Co., docket no. 324128, (published 6/28/2018). In Woodring, the Plaintiff went to a self-serve spray car wash in mid-winter. While leaving her car running, she began to wash the vehicle with the car wash wand. As she worked her way around the rear of the vehicle, she slipped and fell on ice, suffering serious injuries.
The plaintiff filed a claim for no-fault PIP benefits and the defendant denied the claim, arguing that the act of washing a car is not maintenance and further there was no “causal connection” between her injury and the maintenance performed. The trial court in Muskegon County disagreed and allowed the plaintiff’s no-fault PIP claim to proceed to a jury. The defendant appealed.
After a long discussion about whether certain older Court of Appeals cases carried precedential value, as well as a discussion about previous peremptory orders issued by the Michigan Supreme Court that touched on similar maintenance cases, the Court of Appeals panel held that the plaintiff in Woodring could obtain Michigan no-fault benefits.
In making this ruling the panel found that the plaintiff was actively engaged in performing essential maintenance to the vehicle pertinent to its use as a motor vehicle. Although the maintenance was routine and not of an immediate urgency, it was maintenance none-the-less. In fact, the court specifically stated it “is essential to see out of the windows and windshield while driving or risk injury or death to the driver or others.”
As such, the Court found there was a causal connection between the car and the injury that was more than just incidental or fortuitous.
The Dissenting Opinion
The decision was not unanimous. Judge Michael Riordan, who has been no friend to plaintiffs in personal injury cases during his time on the Court of Appeals, dissented. He argued there was no question that the causal connection between the plaintiff’s injuries and her car was merely incidental.
In his opinion, the plaintiff fell due to a condition of the land (icy pavement) and the fact she just so happened to be washing her car at the time was incidental or fortuitous.
This author finds the reasoning of the dissent troubling. If it was not for the act of performing the car maintenance, the plaintiff never would have never encountered the ice in the first place. Encountering the ice at the car wash in winter was part and parcel of her act of performing vehicle maintenance, which is compensable under the law.
It will be interesting to see where this case goes from here. The defendant will mostly likely appeal this decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, who can either decide to take a look at this issue or decline.
Either way, the Michigan car accident lawyers at the Steinberg Law Firm will be watching.
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