Court Community Connections: Justices to hear case in Caro as part of program

A dispute over whether the plaintiff's no-fault auto insurance covers injuries she suffered while allegedly closing the door to her parked truck will come before the Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday, Oct. 27, when the court convenes in Caro for "Court Community Connections," a Supreme Court program aimed principally at high school students.

The plaintiff in Frazier v Allstate Insurance Company broke her ankle in a fall in her condominium parking lot while preparing to leave for work; she contended that she slipped and fell while closing the door to her truck after loading some items inside. After initially paying her some personal injury benefits, the plaintiff's no-fault insurance company refused to continue; the insurer argued, based on statements from paramedics, that the woman simply slipped and fell in an icy parking area, and that her fall had nothing to do with her use of her vehicle.

Michigan's no-fault auto insurance act generally does not allow recovery for accidental injuries arising "out of the ownership, operation, maintenance, or use of a parked vehicle as a motor vehicle," but there are exceptions. The parked vehicle exclusion does not apply if the injury is "a direct result of physical contact with equipment permanently mounted on the vehicle" or where someone was injured while "alighting from the vehicle." A jury found that these exceptions did apply in the plaintiff's case; although the insurer appealed, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the $433,655.12 trial verdict and ruled that the woman was also entitled to recover her attorney fees from the insurance company. The insurer, Allstate, has appealed.

The Michigan Supreme Court, which normally hears oral arguments at the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, will hear oral argument in Caro at the Tuscola Technology Center. Students and educators from Caro, Cass City, Vassar, Kingston, Reese, Akron-Fairgrove, Mayville, and Unionville-Sebewaing high schools will attend the oral argument, which begins at 12:45 p.m. Students and teachers will study the case in advance with the help of local judges and attorneys from the Tuscola County Bar Association.

Following the argument, students will meet with the attorneys in Frazier v Allstate for a debriefing. Students are also invited to a reception with the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Robert P. Young Jr. said that the court started "Court Community Connections" in September 2007 to educate the public about the appellate court process.

"Compared to the trial courts, the appellate courts are low drama, high impact," Young said. "High-profile trials offer a lot of interest, but they have a direct effect only on a limited group of people. Appellate courts may not be very glamorous, but their rulings, to the extent they are binding on future courts, can have a wide and lasting impact on many people. We cannot really appreciate the justice system, and its role in our constitutional republic, without understanding how the appellate courts work."

"Court Community Connections" takes the court to different communities throughout Michigan, Young explained. "The communities that have hosted us for these programs have been unfailingly gracious and supportive, and Tuscola County is no exception," he said. "My fellow justices and I are very grateful to the local educators and students, judges and court staff, and local attorneys for all their support and cooperation."

Tuscola County Probate Judge Amanda Roggenbuck said that "Court Community Connections" is a valuable experience in state government. "The judicial branch is probably the least understood of the three branches of government," she said. "By participating in this program, students will see one aspect of their government in action."

Published: Tue, Oct 18, 2011