When the fox guards the henhouse: Supreme Court redefines NoFault PIP coverage
Mona Lisa Frazier fell while closing her car door. The Michigan No Fault law provides medical benefits for people who suffer injury while in "physical contact with permanently mounted equipment" and for people who are "entering or alighting" from a parked vehicle. Frazier sought benefits from Allstate, but the "good hands" people refused to pay. She filed suit and both the Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals agreed that she was entitled to Personal Injury Protection benefits under the above provisions. This week, the Republican Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and held, in a 4-3 decision, that Frazier is not entitled to PIP benefits.
Even though our courts have previously held that a person who falls while opening a car door is covered, the Republican Supreme Court majority held that closing a car door was not intended to be included within the statutory coverage provided to passengers "alighting." You are covered while opening the car door, or if you are touching a tool box or mounted camper top or a pizza delivery sign, but not if you are closing the car door.
The majority even selectively misquoted a 1982 Supreme Court decision to support its conclusion: it quoted the Krueger v. Lumberman's Mutual case to suggest that the Krueger precedent established that once one's feet were firmly on the ground, a vehicle occupant has completed the "alighting" process--even though that meant leaving the vehicle door open. In fact, the full Krueger quote cited by the majority actually held that "we are convinced that an individual has not finished 'alighting' from a vehicle AT LEAST until both feet are planted firmly on the ground." The Republican Justices found it convenient to omit from their opinion the full context of the Krueger decision (awarding PIP benefits) by alluding to putting one's feet on the ground, without explaining that the "process of alighting" was defined to go AT LEAST that far.
This is what happens when a lifetime AAA lawyer becomes the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and the Chamber of Commerce with its constituent insurance company members dominate the judicial election process: individuals beholden to vested interests parse statutory and common law language to support their constituency, regardless of logic, common sense or justice. No wonder our Court was recently identified as the most partisan and least respected state supreme court in the country.