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Cornelius v MAC; (COA-PUB; 2/22/2018; RB #3712)

Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket No. 334977
Judges Gleicher, Borrello, and Swartzle; per curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion.

Compulsory Insurance Requirements for Owners or Registrants of Motor Vehicles Required to Be Registered [§3101(1)]
Disqualification for Uninsured Owners or Registrants of Involved Motor Vehicles or Motorcycles [§3113(b)]
When Claimants Can Receive PIP Benefits Through the Assigned Claims Facility [§3172(1)]

Not applicable


In this unpublished per curiam opinion examining the uninsured motorist disqualification of MCL 500.3113(b), the Court affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of defendant’s case and upheld its Order instructing defendant to assign plaintiff’s claim to an insurer. The Court found that plaintiff was involved in two separate accidents and that his uninsured vehicle was not involved in the second accident, which also caused plaintiff’s injuries. The Court held that plaintiff was entitled to no-fault benefits through the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan even though he allowed his personal insurance policy to lapse.

Plaintiff, Robert Cornelius, was involved in two motor vehicle collisions in the same evening. Plaintiff’s insurance policy on his Ford Expedition lapsed, but he still drove the uninsured vehicle after consuming alcohol earlier in the evening. He further admitted to closing his eyes as he approached an intersection and then rear-ending an Envoy traveling in the same lane. The Expedition’s airbags deployed and its engine began to smoke. Plaintiff exited his vehicle and proceeded to the sidewalk. The driver of the other involved vehicle testified that plaintiff looked “disoriented” following the collision. Approximately thirty to sixty seconds had elapsed when plaintiff wandered into traffic and was hit in the knee by a black Charger driving in that lane. Plaintiff flipped into the air and landed on his face. The driver of the Charger, after stopping briefly, “fled the collision and has not since been identified.”

Plaintiff was treated at the emergency room and subsequently applied for placement with defendant under MCL 500.3172(1). Defendant, Michigan Assigned Claims, notified plaintiff that he was the subject of their investigation and ultimately refused to pay his benefits or assign the claim as outlined in the statute. Six months following the accident, plaintiff filed a complaint to compel the assignment of his claim to an insurer that would cover his PIP benefits. Defendant contested the assignment and moved for summary disposition. According to defendant, plaintiff was ineligible for PIP benefits under MCL 500.3113(b), “which excludes PIP benefits for injuries to the owner of an uninsured vehicle.”
The trial court concluded that plaintiff was involved in two separate accidents, and that plaintiff’s vehicle—despite being the but-for cause—did not actively contribute to the second accident. It ordered defendant to pay plaintiff for benefits arising from the second accident and instructed defendant to assign plaintiff’s claim to an insurer. Defendant appealed.

The issue before the Court was whether plaintiff’s uninsured Expedition actively contributed to the “happening of the motor vehicle accident.” Physical involvement is not required for a vehicle to be involved in an accident. A vehicle may be involved if it merely influences another vehicle’s path of travel. The Court will “separately analyze the vehicles involved to determine whether the particular vehicle at issue had any active influence on other involved vehicles that caused the accident or injuries.”

The Court first addressed defendant’s argument that plaintiff and his uninsured vehicle were involved in only one accident. Defendant relied on Hastings Mut Ins Co v State Farm Ins Co, 177 Mich App 428 (1989), and contended that there was one chain-reaction accident rather than two separate accidents. However, the Court clarified that “Hastings does not stand for the broad proposition that [all] collisions involving multiple vehicles are to be as a single accident.” Contrary to defendant’s contention, both courts treated the first accident with the Envoy as separate incident.

Plaintiff’s Expedition and the Envoy actively contributed to the first accident by making contact with each other. The black Charger actively contributed to the second collision by making contact with plaintiff. That plaintiff would not have been walking in the right lane had he not crashed his Expedition into the Envoy makes plaintiff’s operation of the Expedition a [but-for] cause of the second collision. . . . [H]owever, but-for causation is not enough.

Next, the Court examined the uninsured Expedition’s influence on the Charger and found that the plaintiff’s “Expedition did not actively contribute to the injuries caused by plaintiff’s collision with the black Charger.” The Charger proceeded through the traffic lane as if the first accident had never occurred, which disproved defendant’s chain-reaction theory of the collision. There was “no evidence that the first collision caused plaintiff’s Expedition or the Envoy to stray” into the Charger’s path. While the Court conceded that defendant likely would not have been in the traveling lane but-for the first car accident, this finding of fact was insufficient to conclude that the Expedition actively contributed to the second collision with the Charger.

The black Charger did not maneuver around the first collision or slow down [as a result of it]. . . . Accordingly, we conclude that, because plaintiff’s Expedition did not influence the operation of the black Charger, plaintiff’s Expedition did not actively contribute to the second conclusion.

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