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Bellmore v Friendly Oil Change, Inc., et al (COA – PUB 5/12/2022; RB #4406)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #357660; Published
Judges Jansen, Cavanagh, and Riordan; Authored
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Forthcoming; Link to Opinion


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Maintenance of a Motor Vehicle [$3105(1)]
Exception for Unreasonably Parked Vehicles [$3106(1)(a)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not Applicable


SUMMARY:
In this unanimous, published decision authored by Judge Cavanagh, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order in favor of Plaintiff Karen Louise Bellmore, in Bellmore’s first-party action against Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company (“State Farm”), and remanded for entry of an order granting summary disposition in State Farm’s favor. The Court of Appeals held, first, that Bellmore’s injuries—which she sustained when she accidentally fell into the service pit beneath her vehicle while getting an oil change—did not arise out of the maintenance of her motor vehicle for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1). The Court of Appeals held, second, that Bellmore’s vehicle was not “parked” for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1) at the moment Bellmore fell into the service pit.

Karen Bellmore went with her friend to Friendly Oil Change, Inc. (“Friendly”) to have her vehicle’s oil and filter changed. Bellmore’s friend was driving Bellmore’s vehicle and, upon arriving at Friendly, Bellmore’s friend pulled in and stopped the vehicle over a service pit. At some point while Bellmore’s vehicle was being serviced, a service technician asked Bellmore to look at the air filter. Bellmore exited the vehicle and walked towards its front, at which point she accidentally fell into the service pit below, sustaining injuries as a result. At some point thereafter, Bellmore filed a first-party action against State Farm, seeking no-fault PIP benefits related to the injuries she sustained as a result of the fall. She then filed a motion for summary disposition on the issue of entitlement, arguing that she was engaged in “maintenance” of her vehicle at the time of her fall for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1), or, in the alternative, that her vehicle was parked in such a way as to cause unreasonable risk of bodily injury—because it was not parked all the way over the service pit—for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1). State Farm filed a cross motion for summary disposition, arguing that there was no causal connection between Bellmore’s injuries and the maintenance being performed on the vehicle, and, additionally, that the vehicle was parked reasonably “because [Bellmore] had ample opportunity to observe, react to, and avoid any purported hazard posed by her vehicle being positioned over a service pit for an oil change.” The trial court ultimately came down on the side of Bellmore, granting summary disposition in her favor.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trail court’s summary disposition order, turning first to the issue of whether Bellmore’s injuries arose out of the maintenance of her motor vehicle for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1). The Court held that they did not: that it was not any maintenance of the vehicle that caused Bellmore to fall into the service pit; that the filter Bellmore was being asked to look at it did not cause her to fall into the service pit; and that her being asked by the service technician to look at the filter did not cause her to fall into the service pit. Rather, the Court held that Bellmore’s “lack of attention to where she was walking . . . caused her to fall into the service pit,” and thus the causal connection between her injuries and the maintenance of her vehicle was no more than incidental, fortuitous, or “but for.”

“Here, plaintiff’s claimed injuries did not arise out of the maintenance of her vehicle. Plaintiff’s motor vehicle was merely incidental to the circumstances. As defendant argues, the cause of plaintiff’s injuries was her fall into the service pit. And plaintiff’s fall into the service pit was not in any way a direct result of the maintenance being performed on her vehicle. In other words, the performance of maintenance on plaintiff’s vehicle did not directly cause plaintiff to fall into the service pit and sustain injuries. Unlike in the cases of Woodring, 325 Mich App 108, and McMullen, 203 Mich App 102—which were relied on by the trial court, in this case no condition created by the maintenance being performed caused plaintiff’s injuries. The filter that plaintiff was being asked to look at did not cause plaintiff to fall into the service pit. And the fact that plaintiff was asked to look at the filter by the service technician did not cause plaintiff to fall into the service pit. Rather, it was plaintiff’s lack of attention to where she was walking that caused her to fall into the service pit and sustain injuries. Even if plaintiff did slip on something before falling as she claimed in her deposition, there was no evidence that the slippery substance came from the filter or plaintiff’s vehicle. “The no-fault act was not designed to compensate all injuries occurring in or around a motor vehicle.” Rajhel v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 145 Mich App 593, 595; 378 NW2d 486 (1985). In short, plaintiff’s claimed injuries did not arise out of the maintenance of her vehicle because the connection between plaintiff’s claimed injuries and the maintenance of her motor vehicle was no more than ‘but for,’ incidental, or fortuitous. See Thornton, 425 Mich at 659-660. Therefore, the trial court’s order granting plaintiff’s motion for partial summary disposition on this ground is reversed.”

The Court of Appeals next held that Bellmore’s car was not “parked” at the moment she fell into the service pit for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1)(a). Judge Cavanagh’s reasoning on this issue is curious, and it is worth noting that at no point does he actually analyze whether or not Bellmore’s vehicle was parked as it sat in the service bay. He simply recharacterizes Bellmore’s argument, then declared, without explanation, that her vehicle was not “parked” at the time of her fall.

“First, we address the issue whether plaintiff’s vehicle was ‘parked’ within the contemplation of this exception to the parked vehicle exclusion of the no-fault act. As this Court discussed in Woodring, 325 Mich App at 120-121, the word ‘parked’ is not defined in the no-fault act, and ‘a vehicle is not necessarily parked just because it is stopped, halted, standing, or otherwise not presently in motion.’ In this case, plaintiff’s vehicle was inside a vehicle service facility—Friendly Oil Change—for the purpose of getting the oil and filter changed, i.e., maintenance. Plaintiff’s vehicle was positioned over a service pit to allow the service technician access to the underside of plaintiff’s vehicle so that the requested maintenance could be performed. Plaintiff argued that, if her vehicle had completely covered the service pit, she would not have fallen into the service pit. Plaintiff is, therefore, actually contesting the positioning of her vehicle over a service pit during the performance of the maintenance she had requested for her vehicle. Essentially, plaintiff is claiming that the manner in which her vehicle was positioned over the service pit—with a gap large enough for a person to fall through and into the pit—posed an unreasonable risk of injury. Under these circumstances we conclude that plaintiff’s vehicle was not ‘parked’ for purposes of the no-fault act; thus, plaintiff’s injuries did not arise out of the use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle under MCL 500.3106(1). Again, the ‘no-fault act was not designed to compensate all injuries occurring in or around a motor vehicle.’ Rajhel, 145 Mich App at 595. Therefore, the trial court’s conclusion that plaintiff would also be entitled to PIP benefits under this parked vehicle exception was erroneous.”


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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