‘Alighting’ ends with both feet on the ground, MSC says

A plaintiff can’t collect personal protection benefits from her no-fault insurer for an injury she suffered from a slip-and-fall while getting out of her car, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. The court reversed a jury verdict in the plaintiff’s favor.

The decision in Frazier v. Allstate Insurance Co. puts a limitation on just how far the phrase “arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle” can be interpreted. Mona Lisa Frazier sued her auto insurer for first-party benefits to cover treatment of an injury she suffered when she stepped on a patch of ice while closing her car door after exiting the vehicle.

At issue was whether she suffered the injury while “alighting” (also known as “exiting”) the vehicle. Signed by the four Republican justices only, the memorandum opinion states that Frazier wasn’t alighting the vehicle when she fell because she had essentially completed the process of exiting the car when both feet were on the ground.

Moreover, that the injury must be sustained “while” alighting indicates that “alighting” does not occur in a single moment but occurs as the result of a process. The process begins when a person initiates the descent from a vehicle and is completed when an individual has effectively “descend[ed] from a vehicle” and has “come to rest”—when one has successfully transferred full control of one’s movement from reliance upon the vehicle to one’s body. This is typically accomplished when “both feet are planted firmly on the ground.” [citiation removed]

Based on the foregoing analysis, plaintiff is not entitled to benefits under the no–fault act because her injury did not arise out of the use of a parked vehicle under MCL 500.3106(1). Plaintiff was injured when she slipped and fell on a patch of ice while closing the passenger door of her vehicle. Plaintiff had placed a few personal items in the passenger compartment via the passenger door, stood up, and stepped out of the way of the door when she closed the door and fell. Insofar as she was in contact with the door of the vehicle at the time of her injury, she was clearly in contact with the vehicle itself, not with “equipment” mounted thereon. Therefore, her injury was not “a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle . . . .” MCL 500.3106(1)(b). Further, before her injury, plaintiff had been standing with both feet planted firmly on the ground outside of the vehicle; she was entirely in control of her body’s movement, and she was in no way reliant upon the vehicle itself. Therefore, she was not in the process of “alighting from” the vehicle. MCL 500.3106(1)(c). At the time of her injury, plaintiff had already alighted.

Justice Marilyn Kelly, joined by Justice Michael F. Cavanagh, dissented, stating that she would have denied leave to hear the case because a reasonable juror could have concluded that Frazier was alighting the vehicle when she fell. Justice Diane M. Hathaway wrote a separate dissent, arguing that the Supreme Court shouldn’t “take any further action in this unique, fact-specific case that should have no precedential value.

Kelly, Moss and Robinson inducted into Women’s Hall of Fame

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly

Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, Michigan ACLU Director Kary Moss and attorney Rose Mary C. Robinson are among eight women who have been inducted into the 2011 Class of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.

Kelly began her career as a French teacher and was elected to the State Board of Education at age 25 – later becoming its president. Justice Kelly worked as a courtroom attorney for over 17 years. She was elected to the Michigan Court of Appeals in 1988 and re-elected in 1994. She was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 1996 and again in 2004. She served as the Court’s Chief Justice from 2009-2011.

Moss is the first female executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, serving in that capacity since 1998. She earned a Masters in International Affairs from Columbia University and a JD from CUNY Law School at Queen’s College. Prior to joining the ACLU of Michigan, she clerked at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then served as staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Women’s Rights Project which was founded by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. During her tenure, Moss has initiated reforms and lawsuits championing women’s rights. As a practicing civil rights attorney, Moss litigated many cases dealing with sex discrimination and women’s rights.

Robinson was one of the first women elected to the Wayne County Commission. She earned her law degree from Wayne State University Law School in 1972. Her work on the Labor Committee of the Wayne County Commission opened doors for women, disabled residents, and minorities. Robinson is a criminal defense trial lawyer and appellate lawyer, often representing poor and indigent clients pro bono.