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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Split Court of Appeals Disagrees Over “Good Cause” Requirement to Compel Independent Medical Examinations and Articulates Scope of Trial Court’s “Discretion” to Deny IME Requests

In this published 2-1 opinion (Murray, Boonstra, JJ, majority; M.J. Kelly, dissenting), the Court of Appeals reversed a trial court’s denial of the defendant’s request to compel plaintiff to submit to several new “independent medical examinations” (a/k/a “IME’s”)  in her no-fault automobile suit against them.  The opinion contains much commentary on the accepted practice of the bar in noticing up “IME’s”  without seeking leave of court or, even requesting permission from the plaintiff’s counsel.

However, the Court’s legal opinion provides crucial analysis and guidance to trial courts for assessing the necessity of IME’s and whether and to what extent “good cause” will be shown to allow such examinations.  The Court provides a definition of “good cause” to mean “simply…satisfactory, sound or valid reason.”

At first glance, it may appear, and the dissent suggests as much, that the “discretion” given to trial courts to allow or deny a request for IME’s is not truly discretion at all given the facts of this case and the manner in which the majority interprets MCR 2.311(A).  Thus, the “abuse of discretion” standard, which is ordinarily a high standard of review to overcome, is lowered by the majority’s restricting the trial court’s discretion and turning it into more of a structured analytical requirement to determine, in each case, whether there is “good cause” shown under this majority panel’s seemingly lowered definition of this latter phrase.

The plaintiff argued that defendants had her medical records and had previously conducted several IME’s upon her in the past in relation to other auto accident cases.  The plaintiff asserted that the requests for any new IME’s would result only in duplicative discovery efforts and were an attempt to unnecessarily burden and/or harass her.  The trial court agreed and denied the defendants’ request to conduct the IME’s.

However, the majority points out that the plaintiff’s mental and physical condition was placed squarely at issue in the case based on her allegations of injury.  To the extent defendants had prior IME’s on the same plaintiff related to other automobile accident lawsuits she filed, these were only marginally helpful in assessing whether she suffered the requisite “serious impairment” injuries in this particular accident, which would then entitle her to bring a tort claim under the No-Fault Act.

The majority also articulates the definition of “good cause” within the meaning of the court rule and uses federal court case analogues to go through a principled analysis of the issue.

This is a published opinion with a dissenting judge, so it is likely to garner some additional attention and may be subject to further appeal.  Moreover, it provides very useful guidance to the bench and bar on this ongoing issue of the use and propriety of IME’s.

Read the opinion here:  Burris v. K.A.M. Transport, et al.COA.Opinion.06.25.2013