It’s Monday morning and you’re at your local neighborhood gas station, filling up your car for the upcoming week’s worth of long commutes and road trips. As you take a step away from the pump, your foot gets caught on the hose and down you fall on that hard concrete.
While lying on the ground, nursing your injury, you wonder to yourself: will my automobile insurance policy cover this? Luckily (or maybe unluckily for persons prone to accidents at the gas pump), that exact issue was addressed in the recent unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals opinion, Denice Taylor and Joseph Taylor v. Frankenmuth Mutual Insurance Company, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Michigan Court of Appeals, issued Feb. 15, 2018 (Docket No. 335231).
The appellate court in Taylor dealt with a plaintiff who tripped over a gasoline pump hose while pumping gasoline into her vehicle. In upholding the trial court’s decision granting the defendant insurance company’s motion for summary disposition, the appellate court held that such an accident is within the “parked-vehicle exclusion” as per MCL 500.3106(1), and the plaintiff is, therefore, not eligible for no-fault personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits.
A parked car is generally excluded from no-fault coverage. Kemp v. Farm Bureau Gen Ins Co of Michigan, 500 Mich 245, 252; 901 NW2d 534 (2017). See also MCL 500.3106(1). This is known as the “parked-vehicle exclusion.”
The plaintiff argued on appeal that a car being filled up with gasoline is not within the “parked-vehicle exclusion,” but rather her injury arose out of the “maintenance” of a motor vehicle, which would entitle her to PIP benefits under MCL 500.3105(1). “Under personal protection insurance 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, subject to the provisions of this chapter” MCL 500.3105(1).
In the alternative, the plaintiff argued that if the parked-vehicle exclusion does apply to her situation, the act of pumping gasoline is akin to loading property unto a vehicle. This would fit one of three exceptions to the parked-vehicle exclusion under MCL 500.3106(b), which states in relevant part:
(1) Accidental bodily injury does not arise out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle unless any of the following occur:
(b) Except as otherwise provided in subsection (2), the injury was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle, while the equipment was being operated, or used, or property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in the loading and unloading process.
In regards to whether the act of pumping gas can be considered “maintenance,” this was already settled by the Michigan Supreme Court case, Heard v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Co., 414 Mich 139, 143; 324 NW2d 1 (1982). Heard was another case involving an injury at the gas pump, although in that case, the plaintiff was stuck by a vehicle while pumping gas.
The Heard court did not accept the plaintiff’s argument that the injury arose from the maintenance or use of the vehicle. Instead, the court concluded that the vehicle was clearly parked within the meaning of MCL 500.3106. Despite the differing facts, the appellate court found that Heard stands for the straightforward proposition that a vehicle stopped for gas is a parked car for purposes of the Michigan No-Fault Act.
The appellate court also rejected the plaintiff’s alternative argument, which involves a more creative line of reasoning. The plaintiff argued that her injury was a result of physical contact with property being lifted onto or lowered from the vehicle in a loading and unloading process. More specifically, the gas being pumped, and the mechanical device to transport the gas into the car, is an act of loading property unto a vehicle. The plaintiff analogized the facts of her case with that of Adanalic v Harco Nat Ins Co, 309 Mich App 173, 181; 870 NW2d 731 (2015), where the injury came about from unloading a pallet of goods from a vehicle.
However, the appellate court rejected the plaintiff’s interesting comparison noting that the situation is not the same. The party in Adanalic was injured by physical contact with the pallet as it was being unloaded off the vehicle. In Denice, the material being loaded was gasoline. However, the gasoline was being loaded to the vehicle through a hose. The plaintiff’s injury was due to physical contact with the hose, not with the gasoline.
Ultimately, the appellate court reasoned that for the exception in MCL 500.3106(b) to apply, the injury must be due to physical contact with the materials being loaded or unloaded. Therefore, the exception does not apply to a situation where the injury is due to tripping on the gasoline pump hose.
In conclusion, under these specific facts, where a person trips on a gasoline hose while filling up the gas tank of his/her vehicle and is injured, the appellate court held that: a) the situation does fit within the parked-vehicle exclusion and it cannot be viewed as maintenance of a vehicle, and b) the loading/unloading exception to the parked-vehicle exclusion is not applicable to this situation.
So that said, please be careful where you step on your next trip to the gas station.
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