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No-Fault On Ice

Cory P. Whalen - SiebenCarey "Know Your Rights" AttorneyJanuary 16, 2013

Under Minnesota’s No-Fault insurance law, a person suffering injuries arising out of the maintenance or use of a motor vehicle has a right to benefits – payment of medical bills, lost wages and other economic losses – regardless of who’s at fault. 

The term “use of a motor vehicle” seems pretty straightforward. But introduce Minnesota ice into the picture and the definition becomes, well, a little more slippery. 

Consider these two factual scenarios: 

• A woman pulls her car out of the garage and leaves it running while she goes back to close the garage door. While returning, she slips on ice about an arm’s length away from the vehicle. 

• A woman gets out of a car after it is parked on an icy street. As she walks around the car, she tries to steady herself by leaning on the car but falls and injures herself. 

Did either victim’s injuries arise out of the “use” of a motor vehicle under the No-Fault law? Can there be coverage when the victim is not even in the automobile at the time of the accident?

The garage-door scenario is based on the facts of Barry v. Illinois Farmers Ins. Group, where the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that the injury arose out of the use of the vehicle because the car was an active accessory to the injury. The court reasoned the woman’s “use” of the vehicle was ongoing. The car remained running and she was attempting to return to it.

The second scenario is based on Christiansen v. General Accident Ins. In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled that the victim was not entitled to benefits because she had finished alighting from the car. In other words, “use” ended when she exited the vehicle.

While the factual situations share much in common – both involve falls on ice in close proximity to vehicles the victims had just left – No-Fault coverage turns on a relatively subtle difference. 

If you have been injured in an accident and have questions regarding your No-Fault insurance coverage, please contact me directly at 612-333-9782 or cory.whalen@knowyourrights.com.

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