Woman who fell while preparing to enter car is denied PIP benefits
Sherry Webster transported a grand-kid and a greatgrand-kid to a friend's home. As she was preparing to remove a diaper bag from the back seat, she fell on ice in the friend's driveway. She had grabbed the handle of the door, but did not know if she had begun the process of opening the handle. No one asked any further questions about her preparations to enter the car. The trial court concluded that she was not entitled to PIP benefits from her auto insurer, the Auto Club, because although she was preparing to enter the car, the fall was not "causally related" to that process. A majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that the lower court got the decision right, but for the wrong reason.
These two judges ruled that since Webster was touching the car, but had not actually begun the process of entering it, she was not entitled to PIP benefits. The dissenting Court of Appeals judge agreed with the reasoning of the lower court: past cases had been uniform in holding that once a person touches the vehicle, they have begun the process of entry. Nevertheless, the motorist's intent is irrelevant, and to secure PIP benefits he or she must establish that the fact of entering played a causal role in the fall (i.e., a loss of balance on shifting weight, for example, must occur). In this case, even under the prior historical analysis, since Ms. Webster did not provide any evidence that her attempt to enter the car played a role in the fall, she was not entitled to statutory PIP benefits.