Washington Court Finds Falling from a Parked Vehicle Is Not a Motor Vehicle Accident

Washington automobile insurers must offer personal injury protection coverage (PIP).  PIP benefits may cover medical expenses, lost wages,  funeral expenses, and loss of services.  Washington car accident attorneys know that it is not always clear whether an incident resulting in injuries gives rise to a PIP claim.  In a recent case, a Washington appeals court determined whether an insured person could receive PIP benefits for injuries he suffered when he fell out of a parked vehicle.

The plaintiff felt nauseated while he was driving with his son.  He turned onto a side street and pulled over.  He put the vehicle in park but left it running. He unbuckled his seatbelt and leaned out the window to be sick.  As he was leaning out the window, he passed out and fell forward.  He received significant injuries when he struck his head on the pavement.  His head and upper body had fallen outside the vehicle, but his legs and feet were near the pedals.  He bled profusely.  His son then drove him to the hospital.

The plaintiff’s medical bills exceeded $10,000.  He filed a PIP claim with his automobile insurer.  The policy states that it will provide the specified benefits “for bodily injury to each Insured person caused by a motor vehicle accident.”  The insurer denied coverage, determining that there was no motor vehicle accident to trigger coverage.  The insurer argued that a motor vehicle accident can only occur when the vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle, and that is not the case when the vehicle is parked.  The plaintiff’s injuries occurred when he fell from his parked vehicle, so the insurer determined that they were not a result of a motor vehicle accident.

In responding to the plaintiff’s argument prior to trial, the insurer also argued that the plaintiff had not been “engaged in a transaction essential to the use of the vehicle.”  Furthermore, the insurer argued that there was no causal connection between the plaintiff’s use of the vehicle and his injuries.

The plaintiff and his wife sued the insurer for breach of contract for failure to pay the PIP benefits, as well as other claims.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant in the breach of contract claim, and the plaintiff appealed.

The appeals court noted that it had previously held that a “motor vehicle accident” occurs when a vehicle makes “forceful contact with another vehicle or a person, causing physical injury.” The appeals court also looked at case law from the Washington Supreme Court, which had held that a motor vehicle accident occurs when a vehicle is being operated as a motor vehicle, meaning “when it is being driven or when it is stopped while being driven.”

The appeals court found that the incident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries did not meet a reasonable construction of the meaning of “motor vehicle accident.”  The appeals court further found that the plaintiff was not operating the vehicle as a motor vehicle because it was in park at the time of the incident.  The court found that it did not matter that the plaintiff did not intend to leave the vehicle in park for long, only that he was not operating it at the time of the incident.

It is not always clear whether automobile coverage applies.  If you have been injured in an automobile accident, contact the Washington car accident attorneys at Blair & Kim, PLLC, to help you determine if another party was at fault and if there is applicable insurance coverage.  Call us at (206) 622-6562.

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