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


Supreme Court Denies Application to Consider Whether Noneconomic Damages are Available Under No-Fault Act Against Governmental Entities

In Hodges.v.City of Dearborn et al, the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s decision to allow a suit to proceed against a governmental entity in a wrongful death, liability suit involving a collision between a police vehicle responding to a reported fire and the plaintiff’s decedent’s vehicle.  The Court of Appeals held the plaintiff’s estate could not proceed against the governmental entity and the individual police officer on several fronts.  Most remarkable at this point is the Court’s reference to the decision in Hunter v. Sisco, et al., which I wrote about in a previous blog post Hunter v. Sisco, et al. Application Filed in Supreme Court, for the proposition that noneconomic, emotional / pain and suffering damages are not available in actions against the government under the motor vehicle exception to governmental immunity.  MCL 691.1405.  As mentioned, the application to address that issue is currently pending in the Supreme Court in Hunter.  The Supreme Court also recently granted an application to address the “scope” of “bodily injury” damages available under the motor vehicle exception – to consider whether that term encompasses economic damages that are ordinarily available to plaintiff’s in motor vehicle accident cases.  Read my blog post about that case here:  Hannay v. MDOT – Supreme Court Grants to Consider Scope of Available Damages Under Motor Vehicle Exception to Governmental Immunity

The Supreme Court’s order denying leave is here:  Hodges v. City of Dearborn.SC.Order

Feel free to call Carson J. Tucker, Chair of the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones, LLP at (248) 283-0763 if you have any questions about any of these cases.

Throughout its storied history, Lacey & Jones has distinguished itself from other law firms by maintaining a robust Appeals and Legal Research Group.  Effective appellate representation demands different skills than those required by litigation attorneys.  Our appellate attorneys are adept at analyzing the intricacies of each case from an objective and critical perspective.  From reviewing and preparing the lower court record, identifying appealable errors, and developing a strategy to raise issues that will be addressed by appellate courts, our seasoned appellate team is capable of handling the most complex appeals from the application stage to oral advocacy before the highest courts.  Our research abilities and knowledge of current issues in nearly all major subject-matter areas of the law provide our clients with efficient and immediate assistance with complex and high-exposure cases.   We are experienced at navigating through the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court to shepherd the appeal in the most expeditious fashion possible so that it can be reviewed and quickly ruled upon.  During the last three decades alone, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been responsible for over 150 published decisions in the Michigan Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, including seminal decisions in workers’ compensation, governmental immunity, employment and labor law, civil rights law and insurance coverage.  Because of its specialized knowledge and focus on appellate law and its recognized expertise, the Appeals and Legal Research Group at Lacey & Jones has been asked to participate as amicus curiae writing briefs for the Supreme Court or as special counsel to the Michigan Attorney General and other governmental entities in some of the most significant cases in the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.   Below are some of the recent significant cases in which Lacey & Jones, LLP’s Appeals and Legal Research Group has participated.

  • State Farm v. MMRMA, ___ Mich App ___ (2013), amicus curiae for Oakland County in support of MMRMA application, by Carson J. Tucker
  • Hannay v MDOT, ___ Mich ___ 201_), application granted, amicus curiae to be filed for MTA, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • Yono v. MDOT, ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne County filed by Carson J. Tucker in support of the state’s application
  • Huddleston v. Trinity Health, et al., ___ Mich ___ (201_), oral argument on application granted, amicus curiae with Lawrence Garcia, Esq., for MDTC
  • Ashley, LLC v Pittsfield Twp., 494 Mich 875 (2013), application granted, for Pittsfield Township by Carson J. Tucker (resolved by settlement)
  • Bailey v. Schaaf, ___ Mich ___ (2013), amicus curiae for MDTC by Carson J. Tucker
  • Atkins v. SMART, 492 Mich 707 (2012), oral argument on application, Court of Appeals case reversed by opinion, Carson J. Tucker
  • Hagerty v Manistee, 493 Mich 933 (2013), amicus curiae for Michigan Municipal League, et al., by Carson J. Tucker
  • McMurtrie v Eaton Corp, 490 Mich 976 (2011)
  • Findley v DaimlerChrysler Corp., 490 Mich 928 (2011)
  • Brewer v. AD.Transport Express, Inc, 486 Mich 50 (2010)
  • Stokes v Chrysler, 481 Mich 266 (2008)
  • Brackett v Focus Hope, Inc, 482 Mich 269 (2008)
  • Rakestraw v Gen Dynamics, 469 Mich 220 (2003)

No-Fault Insurer Entitled to Judgment on Hospital’s Claim for Reimbursement of Medical Expenses for Motorcyclist’s Injuries for Accident Caused in Avoiding Collision with Motor Vehicle

In DMC v. Progressive, The Court of Appeals reversed a trial court judgment for the plaintiff hospital which sought reimbursement from defendant no-fault insurer of medical expenses for care to an injured motorcyclist.

The motorcyclist suffered serious injuries after he ditched his bike to avoid a collision with an automobile about to cross into his path.  The motorcycle never came into contact with the vehicle.

The hospital rendered medical services to the motorcyclist in the amount of approximately $112,000 and then sought reimbursement from the motorcyclist’s household automobile no-fault insurer.  The insurer objected on grounds the No-Fault Act, MCL 500.3101, et seq., excludes motorcycles from the definition of motor vehicle.  See MCL  500.3101(2)(e).  While motorcycles are excluded from the definition of motor vehicles, a sufficient causal connection between a motorcyclist’s accident causing injury and a motor vehicle will allow recovery by the motorcyclist of personal insurance protection benefits under the No-Fault Act. The No-Fault Act provides coverage for accidental bodily injury arising out of the ownership, operation, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle.  MCL 500.3105(1).  

Based on the evidence before it (and, apparently without a jury impaneled), the trial court ruled the hospital was entitled to recovery for the care and treatment of the injured motorcyclist.  The insurance company appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed.  

Characterizing the question as one of law, to wit, the extent of the motor vehicle’s involvement in the motorcyclist’s decision to ditch his bike, the Court of Appeals engages in a causal relationship test.  The Court concludes the nexus between the motorcyclist’s actions and conduct and the alleged fear of collision with the approaching motor vehicle was not sufficient to conclude that his injuries arose out of the use, operation or maintenance of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle.  The Court analogizes the case to the recent McPherson decision, which I previously wrote about here (McPherson v. McPherson), to the causal tenuousness in this case.  McPherson however, involved a claim for injuries suffered in a motor vehicle accident when the injured plaintiff suffered a seizure while riding a motorcycle.  His injuries were significant in the second accident as he was rendered a paraplegic.  However, since he could not recover no-fault benefits for the second accident because he was riding a motorcycle, which is excluded, he sought to have benefits extended by alleging that the earlier motor vehicle accident was the true cause of his seizure, which caused the accident resulting in his injuries.  The Supreme Court disagreed.

Here, the Court holds that the perceived, but subjective and unfounded fear of collision with an approaching motor vehicle is not a sufficient nexus of involvement by a motor vehicle to allow recovery of no-fault benefits.  Hence, the hospital was not entitled to reimbursement from the no-fault insurer.

In my judgment, the Court of Appeals overstepped its boundaries here by concluding it is a question of law whether the approaching motor vehicle was involved in the accident.  After noting the question of such involvement is to be taken on a case-by-case basis, it appears to remove from the province of the trial court that part of the fact-finding function entitled to deference.  Having concluded the question is one of pure law, it was free to review the case de novo.  Then, it is free to conclude the motorcyclist’s fear of a collision with the vehicle was subjective and unfounded, and that the mere perception of an inevitable collision is insufficient to give rise to the causal connection required to recover no-fault benefits.

These appear to be the types of cases where it would be wise to develop a factual scenario that requires significant factual conclusions on the part of the trial court and / or a jury.  Was the testimony of the driver of the motor vehicle offered?  Was he or she even identified?  Was there any other factual information that could have led the trier of fact to conclude that a pending collision with the motor vehicle was more than an unfounded and subjective perception?  Although, the Court of Appeals concludes the facts were insufficient to establish the requisite causal connection, i.e., the proximate cause (a fundamentally mixed question of law and fact ordinarily reserved to the province of the finder of fact in the given case), to sustain the hospital’s claim against the no-fault insurer, this does appear to be a judicial choice made by a higher tribunal, rather than an unequivocal application of the rule of law.

In any event, the case provides an interesting explanation of this panel’s view of the causal relationship test to prove an entitlement to no-fault benefits.  I believe the Supreme Court might take a closer look at this case if the hospital were to challenge the ruling.