The issue in this first-party no-fault action for the recovery of personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits is whether the plaintiff’s injury “was a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1). At issue is whether the tailgate on a dump trailer constitutes “equipment” within the meaning of MCL 500.3106(1) as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Frazier v Allstate Insurance Co., 490 Mich 381 (2011).
Charles Anthony LeFevers was dumping a load of contaminated soil into a toxic waste pit. When the tailgate on his dump trailer failed to open, LeFevers walked to the back of the trailer and attempted to force the tailgate open. As he did so, the tailgate opened; according to LeFevers, the weight of the dirt, combined with the swinging action of the tailgate, caused him to lose his balance. He fell about 12 feet onto the concrete base of the waste pit, injuring his back.
LeFevers submitted a claim for PIP benefits to his personal auto insurer, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company, but State Farm denied his claim and LeFevers sued the insurer. Under MCL 500.3105(1), “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.” Because the trailer involved in this case had more than two wheels, it qualifies as a “motor vehicle” under the no-fault act. But, because the trailer was parked at the time of the accident, LeFevers cannot recover PIP benefits from State Farm unless his injury meets one of three exceptions provided in MCL 500.3106(1): (1) the vehicle was unreasonably parked; (2) the claimant was injured as a direct result of physical contact with “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle”; and (3) the claimant was injured as a direct result of contact with property being lowered from the vehicle. LeFevers argued that all three exceptions applied in his case. State Farm moved for the circuit court to dismiss LeFevers’ case; among other matters, State Farm contended that the tailgate on the dump trailer was not “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1), but was a constituent part of the vehicle itself. But the circuit court disagreed, holding that all three exceptions applied in LeFevers’ case. LeFevers and State Farm eventually stipulated to entry of a judgment that required State Farm to pay LeFevers first-party no-fault benefits totaling $174,561.06. The judgment further allowed State Farm to file an appeal as of right, which State Farm did.
But in an unpublished per curiam opinion, the Court of Appeals said that the circuit court did not err in denying summary disposition to State Farm. The panel agreed with State Farm with respect to two of the three exceptions under MCL 500.3106(1): the lower court erred in finding questions of fact about whether the trailer was unreasonably parked and whether LeFevers was injured as a direct result of physical contact with the dirt being dumped from the trailer, the appellate panel said. But, as to the “equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle” exception, there was sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether LeFevers was injured as a direct result of his physical contact with the tailgate. Because LeFevers needed to establish only one of the exceptions under MCL 500.3106(1) to qualify for no-fault coverage, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s order.
Eight days after the Court of Appeals released its opinion, the Supreme Court ruled in Frazier v Allstate Insurance Co. that a car door does not constitute “equipment” permanently mounted on a vehicle for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1)(b). The Court concluded that a car door is a constituent part of the vehicle itself. State Farm then filed a motion for reconsideration in the Court of Appeals, arguing that the Court of Appeals decision in Lefevers’ case was inconsistent with Frazier, but the Court of Appeals denied State Farm’s motion.
State Farm appealed. In an order dated October 4, 2012, the Supreme Court directed the case to be scheduled for “oral argument on whether to grant the applications or take other action.” The Court directed, “At oral argument, the parties shall address whether the tailgate on the plaintiff’s dump trailer was ‘equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle’ for purposes of MCL 500.3106(1)(b), and, if so, whether the plaintiff’s injury was ‘a direct result of physical contact with’ the tailgate.”