Supreme Court Amicus Brief Filed in State Farm v. MMRMA Case Considering Whether Police Vehicle Pursuing Speeding Motorcyclist Sufficiently “Involved” In Motor Vehicle Accident to Require Apportionment of Liability Among No-Fault Insurance Carriers

I filed an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Oakland County, Macomb County and Wayne County in this case, urging the Supreme Court to grant Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority’s application or, alternatively, to reverse the Court of Appeals.  My brief is attached here:  Supreme Court Amicus Curiae Brief for Oakland, Wayne and Macomb Counties stamped copy.

In State Farm v. MMRMA, Supreme Court Case No. 147752, the Court of Appeals held that a police vehicle pursuing a speeding motorcyclist was sufficiently “involved” in a motor vehicle accident between the motorcyclist and another vehicle, even though the police vehicle was nowhere near in proximity to the motorcyclist when he (or his bike) collided with the other vehicle, insured by State Farm.  This holding resulted in the apportionment of liability between the no-fault insurance carrier for the county and the insurer of the vehicle.  Michigan Municipal Risk Management Authority (MMRMA) filed an application for leave to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision.

Technically, this case is a pure insurance coverage dispute between two no-fault automobile insurance carriers.  Since motorcycles are not covered “vehicles” under Michigan’s No-Fault Act (and motorcyclists are not obligated to carry no-fault coverage), when a motorcyclist suffers injury in a motor vehicle accident, the no-fault act contains a provision “prioritizing” which no-fault insurers are to be “on the risk”.  MCL 500.3114(5)(a).  Subsection 6 provides if “2 or more” vehicles are involved in the [motor vehicle] accident” the insurers in the same order of priority shall apportion liability among themselves.

There is much debate about this provision and the “scope” of its meaning in terms of which vehicles are, or, are not, “involved in” the motor vehicle accident.  Several prior cases from the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals interpreting other provisions of the no-fault act appear to give an “expansive” interpretation of the phrase “involved in”, which results in apportionment of coverage responsibility among multiple insurers.

Governmental entities are affected by this case because they are also responsible to provide the security (insurance) required by the no-fault act for the day-to-day operations involving government owned vehicles.  In addition to being contrary to the plain language of the statutory provision, the Court of Appeals decision makes no mention of the effect its ruling has upon government operations and the fiscal consequences of imposing liability under circumstances in which the government is performing an essential function – in this case, the law enforcement function.  There are two other applications pending in the Supreme Court requesting the Court to consider this same provision and the “scope” and meaning of the phrase “involved in” when “motor vehicles” are ostensibly involved in an accident in which a motorcyclist suffers injury.  I previously wrote about this case, as well as the other two.

Police Vehicle Pursuing Fleeing Motorcyclist “Involved In” Motorcyclist’s Accident With Another Motor Vehicle Triggering Insurance Coverage Obligation on the Part of the Governmental Entity

See also:  Braverman ex rel Smutski v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., et al and DMC v. Progressive, et al.

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

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Michigan Supreme Court Rules on Causal Connection Required to Receive No-Fault Benefits in Addressing Whether Plaintiff’s 2008 Spinal Cord Injury Suffered in a Motorcycle Accident Due to a Seizure “Arose Out Of” 2007 Motor Vehicle Accident in which Plaintiff Suffered a Brain Injury that Induced Seizures

In this recent opinion, the Michigan Supreme Court in a (5-1 opinion (Justice Cavanagh dissenting and Justice Viviano not participating)), rules that a plaintiff who was rendered a paraplegic after he suffered a seizure resulting in a crash while riding a motorcycle in 2008  was not entitled to no-fault benefits from the defendant insurance company, which paid benefits to him for the seizure inducing brain injury he suffered in a 2007 accident.  Plaintiff claimed he was entitled to no-fault benefits for the spinal cord injury suffered in the 2008 motorcycle accident because that injury “arose out of”the 2007 accident in which he suffered the brain injury.

The trial court denied the insurance company’s motion for summary disposition and the Court of Appeals affirmed.  After hearing oral argument on the insurance company’s application, the Supreme Court reversed.  The Court addressed “whether the spinal cord injury suffered in the 2008 injury ‘arose out of’ the 2007 accident for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1).”

The Court explains the causal connection required to receive no-fault benefits arising out of a motor vehicle accident:  “[A]n insurer is liable to pay benefits for accidental bodily injury only if those injuries ‘aris[e] out of’ or are caused by ‘the ownership, operation maintenance or use of a motor vehicle . . . .’ It is not any bodily injury that triggers an insurer’s liability under the no-fault act. Rather, it is only those injuries that are caused by the insured’s use of a motor vehicle.”  Citing Griffith v. State Farm Mut. Auto Ins. Co., 472 Mich. 521, 531 (2005).

The Court further explained that an injury arises out of the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle when “the causal connection between the injury and the use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle is more than incidental, fortuitous, or ‘but for.’”  Citing Thornton v. Allstate Ins. Co., 425 Mich. 643, 659 (1986).

Here, the Court concludes the causal connection between the 2008 spinal cord injury and the 2007 accident is insufficient to satisfy the “arising out of” requirement of MCL 500.3105(1).  As explained by the Court:  “Plaintiff did not injure his spinal cord while using the vehicle in 2007.”

The Court continues:  “Rather, he injured it in the 2008 motorcycle crash, which was caused by his seizure, which was caused by his neurological disorder, which was caused by his use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle in 2007.  Under these circumstances, we believe that the 2008 injury is simply too remote and too attenuated from the earlier use of a motor vehicle to permit a finding that the causal connection between the 2008 injury and the 2007 accident ‘is more than incidental, fortuitous, or ‘but for.’”  Citing Thorntonsupra at 659.

Read the Court’s entire opinion here: McPherson v. McPherson