Michigan Supreme Court Suspends All Filing Deadlines for Case Initiation and Responsive Pleadings to Day After Period of Emergency Lockdown Ordered by Governor Whitmer

By  Administrative Order 2020-03  the Michigan Supreme Court has ordered that all filing deadlines for all case initiation and for filing of responsive pleadings in proceedings already initiated are suspended during the period of emergency enunciated in Governor Whitmer’s Executive Order 2020-21 (COVID-19) (March 24 at 12:01 a.m. through April 13, 2020 at 11:59 p.m.).

The “days” during this period which would otherwise constitute the regular business day that a case filing is due under the court rules are being treated like a weekend day or holiday as under MCR 1.108(1), which allows the extension of filing deadlines to the next business day during which the court is open after the weekend or holiday day. The duration of the emergency is essentially being treated like a single consecutive non-business day or holiday for purposes of calculating the time period filing requirements under the Court Rules and particularly the aforementioned MCR 1.108(1).

The Court’s order only applies to case initiation and responsive pleadings to such cases; not to the filing of a brief, for example, that is already due for a case that has already been initiated.

Michigan Supreme Court Denies Leave in Two of Three Cases Pending to Address Legal Causation Under No-Fault Act for Motorcycle Accidents

Last week I filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the State Farm v. MMRMA case pending on application to the Michigan Supreme Court.  As I mentioned in my last post, there were two other cases, both pending on applications to the Court, which asked the Court to deal with the same issue that is presented in this particular case.  Yesterday, the Court denied the applications in those cases.  See the orders here: DMC Case and Smutski v. Auto-Owners, et al.

There has been no disposition of the application in the case for which I submitted an amicus brief.  Thus, it remains the only one still pending.

I previously wrote about these cases in the following posts:

Amicus Curiae Brief Filed in State Farm v. MMRMA

State Farm Seeks Contribution from County Sheriff for Motorcyclist’s Injuries Suffered in Motor Vehicle Accident While Fleeing from Police

Braverman ex rel Smutski v. Auto-Owners, et al.

DMC v. Progressive, et al.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, the Court of Appeals in the Auto Owners case actually remanded for a determination of the factual circumstances involving the motorcycle accident.  There was a question of fact whether the tractor trailer had identifying lights on while it was in the roadway just before the motorcyclist crashed trying to avoid impact with the truck.  In the DMC v. Progressive case the Court of Appeals actually ruled there was no causation.  The “evidence” of involvement of another vehicle was based only on the motorcyclist’s testimony that an unidentified vehicle was about to cross his path and he wrecked his bike while trying to avoid the collision.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to interpret the Court’s actions from its non-action on these two applications.

We shall see what the Court does with the application in the State Farm case.  Although, interestingly, that case has the added wrinkle of involving a governmental entity as the insurance carrier.  Hence, my participation as amicus curiae author in support of the carrier’s application on behalf of Oakland, Wayne and Macomb counties.

I have been at the forefront of the motorcycle accident cases due to my authorship of amicus curiae briefs in the DeYoung / Spectrum case, which I wrote about here:

Supreme Court to Address Taking of Motorcycle in Insurance Coverage Dispute

Supreme Court Undertakes Joyriding and Unauthorized Taking of Motor Vehicles and Motorcycles

up until the present time involving these most recent significant pronouncements on the level of causation and priority among insurers under MCL 500.3114(5) of Michigan’s No-Fault Act.

For more information about this and other similar cases contact Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP, a Birmingham law firm serving clients since 1912.  Mr. Tucker can be reached at (248) 283-0763.

For more information about Lacey & Jones, click on the following practice area company pages on Linked In.

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Insurance Coverage and Recovery Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Civil Litigation Group


Tenants Occupying Insured Property Not Entitled to Coverage for Loss of Home by Fire Where Insured Did Not Reside In Premises – Court of Appeals Issues 2-1 Decision Holding Insurer Did Not Owe Coverage for Claim

This is an interesting insurance coverage decision issued by the Court of Appeals involving a claim for coverage involving a residential property destroyed by fire, which was not occupied by the insured.

In Null v. Auto Owners, et al.COA.Opinion.10.22.2013, a 2-1 decision (Judges Fitzgerald and O’Connell, Shapiro, J. dissenting), the Court of Appeals holds an insurer did not owe coverage on the basis of the “residency clause” in the policy.  The owner and insured of the house was not living in the house; in fact, he was living in Indiana.  The insurer had an Indiana address to which it was sending bills for the premiums.

The Plaintiffs in the underlying lawsuit occupied the house under a land contract.  The insurer paid two prior minor claims for damage due to a leaking roof in the past, even though the land contract arrangement had already been executed and the insured was not occupying the premises.  Thus, Plaintiffs argued the policy provided coverage and, in any event, even if the residency clause applied, the insurer had waived and/or was equitably estopped from denying coverage due to its apparent knowledge the home was not actually occupied by the insured and because it had paid the two prior minor claims during the time the plaintiffs were living in the home.  The trial court initially denied the insurer’s motion for summary disposition, but after holding a bench trial granted judgment in its favor.

This is a 2-1 decision with a notable dissent from Judge Shapiro.  The majority cites well-established Supreme Court precedent demonstrating the residency requirement in such a clause is mandatory and that an insured will not be entitled to coverage for lost, damaged or destroyed property due to fire if he or she does not actually occupy the insured premises.  The majority also notes ambiguity in the record as to whether the insurer actually had notice of the insured’s residency status and ruled that ambiguity favored the insurer.  The majority also ruled equitable estoppel could not apply to the claim because the elements had not been established.

Judge Shapiro dissents.  He argues there were questions of fact concerning whether Auto Owners knew or should have known the insured was not residing in the premises.  The fact it paid two prior claims and sent the bills to an out-of-state address was significant to establish the plaintiff’s waiver and estoppel arguments and those should have been addressed.  (Note, the trial court did not address the equitable estoppel argument even though it was raised by plaintiff below).

The fact this is a 2-1 decision (albeit unpublished), I would anticipate the plaintiffs will at least attempt to file an Application for Leave to Appeal in the Supreme Court.  The only possible avenue plaintiffs have for a consideration by the Supreme Court is the extent to which there were facts that might lead a trier of fact to assess the equitable estoppel argument.  Recall the issue was presented to the trial court but never thoroughly addressed; the trial court first ruled in plaintiff’s favor and denied the insurer’s motion for summary judgment, but then, ultimately granted the insurer judgment after holding a full bench trial.  There was no opinion or analysis of the plaintiff’s equitable estoppel argument.  The plaintiffs’ attorney filed a motion for reconsideration bringing this to the trial court’s attention (obviously intending to appeal), but the trial court simply denied reconsideration without addressing the argument.  Thus, although the majority gets the law right, Judge Shapiro at least has a tangible point about having a court of first instance(the trial court) at least analyze the claim.

For more information about this and other similar cases contact Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP, a Birmingham law firm serving clients since 1912.  Mr. Tucker can be reached at (248) 283-0763.

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Court of Appeals Issue Yet Another Opinion Articulating Different View of “Causation” in Motorcycle Accident Coverage Under No-Fault Act

In Braverman ex rel Smutzki v Auto-Owners Insurance Company, the Court of Appeals issued another legal ruling on the extent or level of “involvement of a motor vehicle” in a motorcycle accident required under the No-Fault Act.  In the past couple of months, the Court of Appeals has issued two other opinions, each of which seem to arrive at differing conclusions regarding the application and definition of the statutory requirement that a motor vehicle be “involved” in an accident with the motorcycle for the motorcyclist to recover benefits under the No-Fault Act.


In this case, the motorcyclist suffered a fatal brain injury when she “laid down her bike” to avoid an apparently imminent collision with a tractor-trailer which was making a slow left turn in front of her.

It was approximately 10:00 p.m.  The street was poorly lit, if at all.  The decedent was riding her bike along with two other motorcyclists.  Their speed was approximated to be 30 to 45 miles per hour.

According to the testimony of one of decedent’s companions, she sped up suddenly and passed him on the left.  He testified this was unusual as they rode together often and he always took the lead and stayed on her left.  He also testified she was looking down at her right hand, which was the throttle side of her bike’s handlebars.  He noted that her throttle had gotten stuck once in the past when he was riding her bike.  He speculated at his deposition this may have been the cause for her sudden acceleration, her unusual maneuver around his left side, and her focus on her throttle rather than the road in front of her.

At a point shortly thereafter, the decedent looked up and saw the tractor-trailer.  Instead of stopping, she swerved and “laid down her bike” to avoid collision.  She did not come into contact with the tractor-trailer.  She suffered a fatal brain injury as a result of her fall.

The accident occurred at approximately 10:00 p.m. on a street with little or no lighting.  There was conflicting testimony as to whether the tractor-trailer’s lights were illuminated at the time of the accident.

Court Rulings

Under the no-fault act, MCL 500.3101 et seq., a motorcycle is not a “motor vehicle.”  MCL 500.3101(2)(e).  For an injured motorcyclist to recover personal insurance protection (PIP) benefits, the accident must “involve a motor vehicle.”  MCL 500.3105; Auto Club Ins Ass’n v State Auto Mut Ins Co, 258 Mich App 328, 331 n 1; 671 NW2d 132 (2003).

MCL 500.3114(5) establishes the order of priority of insurance coverage with respect to which insurer must pay the PIP benefits to the injured motorcyclist:

A person suffering accidental bodily injury arising from a motor vehicle accident which shows evidence of the involvement of a motor vehicle while an operator or passenger of a motorcycle shall claim personal protection insurance benefits from insurers in the following order of priority:

(a) The insurer of the owner or registrant of the motor vehicle involved in the accident;

(b) The insurer of the operator of the motor vehicle involved in the accident.

(c) The motor vehicle insurer of the operator of the motorcycle involved in the accident.

(d) The motor vehicle insurer of the owner or registrant of the motorcycle involved in the accident.

(emphasis added).

Thus, if the tractor-trailer was “involved in the accident” that led to decedent’s injuries and death, then her estate can recover PIP benefits from defendant under MCL 500.3114(5)(a).  Generally, when there is physical contact between the injured party and a motor vehicle, that motor vehicle is involved under MCL 500.3114(5).  See Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 258 Mich App at 339-341. In this case, the parties agreed that neither decedent nor her motorcycle ever came into contact with the tractor-trailer. However, even if there was no physical contact, a motor vehicle
can still be involved in an accident. See Turner v Auto Club Ins Ass’n, 448 Mich 22, 39; 528 NW2d 681 (1995); Frierson v West American Ins Co, 261 Mich App 732, 736-737; 683 NW2d
695 (2004).  In Turner, the Supreme Court held:  [F]or a vehicle to be considered “involved in the accident” under MCL 500.3125 the motor vehicle, being operated or used as a motor vehicle, must actively, as opposed to passively, contribute to the accident. Showing a mere “but for” connection between the operation or use of the motor vehicle and the damage is not enough to establish that the vehicle is “involved in the accident[.]”  In Turner, 448 Mich at 25-26, a police car had its lights activated and was quickly pursuing a stolen vehicle. The stolen vehicle ran a red light and hit two trucks. Turner, 448 Mich at 25-26. One of the trucks split into two and crashed into a building, causing a fire and extensive property damage. Id. at 26. The police car did not collide with the stolen vehicle or either truck. Id. Nonetheless, our Supreme Court held that the police car was involved in the accident because its pursuit of the stolen vehicle prompted that vehicle’s driver “to ignore the red light and collide with the other vehicles,” so its insurer was responsible for paying property protection benefits with respect to the damaged building. Id. at 42-43.

In this case, the trial court concluded that the tractor-trailer was involved in the accident as a matter of law because the accident occurred when decedent reacted to the tractor-trailer in the road. The court compared the tractor-trailer to the police car in Turner, 448 Mich at 42-43, which the Court held was involved in the accident that caused property damage because the police car’s lights and speed caused the car it was pursuing to crash into another
vehicle, which then crashed into a building. Given this conclusion, the trial court ruled in plaintiff’s favor as a matter of law.

The Court of Appeals reverses, holding the trial court’s “but for” analysis was prohibited by the Supreme Court’s decision in Turnersupra, and that further factual development needed to occur to consider the extent to which the tractor-trailer was involved in the accident.

The panel somehow concludes the fact the tractor-trailer was moving slowly as opposed to stopped in the roadway made a difference in the extent to which it was or was not “involved” in the motorcyclist’s accident.  The panel also notes there was a factual question concerning whether the tractor-trailer was visible, given the time at night, the poor lighting of the roadway, and some conflict in the testimony concerning whether the operator of the tractor trailer had illuminated his lights and flashers.

There are several other interim rulings made by the Court of Appeals that are of import to the remand proceedings and the remaining progression of the case, but the focus of this article is on the divergence, yet again, in causation analysis under the No-Fault Act.

Conclusion and Takeaway

This is yet another case adding to confusion (or at least uncertainty) of the extent to which an automobile must truly be involved in, i.e., the cause of or a cause of, an accident involving a motorcycle.  The answer to the inquiry is extremely important in determining the priorities of insurance coverage available under the No-Fault Act.

Two of my prior posts speak to the “causation” analyses being employed by the courts in motorcycle accidents (and each of the cases appears to come to varying results (particularly in the spectrum of causative factors applied to come to the conclusion that a motor vehicle was in fact involved in a motorcycle accident).

Those posts are as follows:

Police Vehicle Involved In Motorcyclist’s Accident with Another Vehicle Where Police Vehicle Pursued Motorcyclist But Then Gave Up On the Chase

Motorcyclist’s Attempt to Avoid Collision with Motor Vehicle Not Sufficient “Involvement” of Motor Vehicle in Accident to Trigger Priority of Coverage Analysis

The Supreme Court appears to be narrowing (rather than expanding) the spectrum of causative factors in more recent pronouncements concerning “causation”, generally, under the No-Fault Act.

Supreme Court’s Decision in McPherson Concerning “Causation” in No-Fault Automobile Insurance Coverage Case

Considering the Supreme Court’s more recent pronouncement in McPherson, the dubious nature of the causation analysis employed in the 1995 Turner decision, the facts presented here, and other contrary Court of Appeals opinions, I believe this case is destined for further appellate treatment by the Supreme Court.

There are different statutory provisions at stake, but the attenuated nature of the causation analysis employed by the Court of Appeals in the instant case does seem to warrant further treatment by Michigan’s One Court of Justice.

It seems the answer lies somewhere in between the “actual contact” rule and the “passive contribution” or “but for” rule.

We shall see.

For more information about this and other similar cases contact Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP, a Birmingham law firm serving clients since 1912.  Mr. Tucker can be reached at (248) 283-0763.

For more information about Lacey & Jones, click on the following practice area company pages on Linked In.

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Insurance Coverage and Recovery Group

Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Civil Litigation Group