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Lawyers’ Corner: Parked Vehicle in Shinn v Michigan Assigned Claims Facility

Clients aren’t always injured on a highway. Sometimes, a person can be hurt while sitting in a parked vehicle. They may still be able to recover, but it will be up to skilled trial attorneys to use changes in Michigan no-fault law to their advantage.

When cases are outside the ordinary, it is up to creative trial attorneys to find ways to get their medical expenses paid. In a recent published opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with a creative trial attorney that the injured motorist was entitled to benefits from the Michigan Assigned Claims Facility even though she was hurt while sitting in an uninsured parked vehicle.

The plaintiff in Shinn v State of Michigan Secretary of State Assigned Claims Facility was walking with her baby. Kelli Shinn stopped to take a rest, sitting in the passenger seat of her parked vehicle in front of her house. While she was sitting with her feet outside the car, Robert Daniels drove another car into her vehicle. The parked vehicle had recently been repaired and Ms. Shinn had yet to insure it.

The defendant auto insurance companies, Farmers Insurance Exchange and American Country Insurance Company, argued that coverage should be denied because Ms. Shinn owned the parked vehicle, which was uninsured.

Parked Vehicle Insurance, Historically

In presenting their defense, the auto insurance companies relied on old law, including the 1987 case Heard v State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co. Heard relied on MCL 500.3113 which, at that time, stated that a person was not entitled to no-fault benefits if:

“The person was the owner or registrant of a motor vehicle or motorcycle involved in the accident with respect to which the security required by subsections (3) and (4) of section 3101 was not in effect.”

When that case was decided, MCL 500.3101 required a motorist to provide “security” through no-fault insurance or self-insurance “continuously during the period of registration of the motor vehicle.” The only times the owner of an uninsured parked vehicle could receive benefits were when:

  • The vehicle was parked in a way that created an unreasonable risk of the bodily injury which occurred;
  • The injury was the result of equipment mounted to the vehicle or being loaded or unloaded from the vehicle; or
  • The injury resulted in the course of employment.

Because in Heard the motorist was injured while pumping gas, none of those exceptions applied and insurance benefits were denied.

Litigators had challenged Heard in court as recently as 2010, in Adams v Citizense Ins Co of America. But while the court had reevaluated what it meant for a parked vehicle to be “involved in an accident” no one had ever questioned whether insurance was required for the parked car.

Changes to Parked Vehicle Insurance Law

The law changed since Heard was decided in 1987, but until recently trial attorneys hadn’t seemed to notice. In particular, a change in MCL 500.3101 opened the door for parked vehicle benefits, even when the car was uninsured. The new version of the law requiring motorists to carry no-fault insurance says:

“Security is only required to be in effect during the period the motor vehicle is driven or moved on a highway.”

Vehicle owners are no longer required to pay to insure vehicles that sit parked on their property.

The change in the law allowed Ms. Shinn to seek no-fault benefits for her injuries under the parked vehicle section of the Michigan No-Fault Act. Under Heard, the fact that Ms. Shinn’s car was uninsured could have cut her off from crucial no-fault benefits. However, her attorneys argued that under the new version of MCL 500.3101, that insurance was not necessary. She wasn’t driving at the time of the accident. Nor had the vehicle moved on a highway for several days.

The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed. It ruled that the Michigan Assigned Claims Facility, and Farmers Insurance Exchange, which was assigned to the claim, was responsible to pay for the plaintiff’s injury.

Advocating in Unusual Auto Law Cases

Trial attorneys should read Shinn as a lesson in creativity. Far too often, lawyers assume that the cross-references to other statutes remain unchanged. The statute behind Heard was amended in 1987, but until 2016, no one though to challenge how the insurance requirements affected parked vehicle accidents.

The lesson to trial attorneys is to be thorough and creative in defending auto accident victims’ claims. By challenging assumptions and fully researching the law behind unusual auto law cases, lawyers can sometimes find changes that will help their clients be compensated for their loss.

David Christensen is an auto accident attorney at Christensen Law in Southfield, Michigan. He handles unusual auto accident claims including parked vehicle accidents. If your client is facing a challenging auto accident lawsuit, contact Christensen Law today for a referral.