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McPherson v ACIA and Progressive Ins Co, et al; (COA-UNP, 01/10/2012; RB #3233)

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Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #299618; Unpublished
Judges Meter, Gleicher, and K.F. Kelly; 2-1 per curiam, K.F. Kelly dissenting
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not applicable; Link to Opinion Courthouse GraphicLink to Dissent Courthouse Graphic
On April 11, 2013, the Supreme Court REVERSED this decision and remanded for entry of summary disposition in favor of Progressive; Link to Opinion Courthouse Graphic


STATUTORY INDEXING:
Entitlement to PIP Benefits: Arising Out Of/Causation Requirement [§3105(1)]
Disqualification of Uninsured Owners or Registrants of Involved Motor Vehicles or Motorcycles [§3113(b)]

TOPICAL INDEXING:
Not applicable


CASE SUMMARY:
In this 2-1 per curiam Opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's denial of summary disposition in favor of the no-fault insurers on the issue of whether the medical treatments the plaintiff received as a result of injuries he suffered in a 2008 motorcycle accident were not sufficiently related to the seizure disorder the plaintiff allegedly sustained in a 2007 motor vehicle accident. In this regard, the Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court that there was a question of fact as to whether the 2008 motorcycle accident arose from the 2007 motor vehicle accident, given the evidence that the motorcycle accident may have happened because plaintiff was having a seizure at the time.

The plaintiff in this case was injured in a motor vehicle accident that occurred on November 25, 2007. Progressive was responsible for paying no-fault benefits related to the plaintiff's injuries sustained in the 2007 motor vehicle accident. The plaintiff's injuries included a head injury that his doctors determined triggered a grand mal seizure disorder within plaintiff. Notably, Progressive did not obtain a medical opinion that disputed the relationship between the plaintiff's seizure disorder and the 2007 motor vehicle accident.

On September 19, 2008, plaintiff sustained additional injuries in a motorcycle accident. The plaintiff testified that immediately before he crashed, he felt like he was having a seizure and then blacked out. As a result of this motorcycle accident, the plaintiff sustained catastrophic injuries that rendered him a quadriplegic.

In affirming the trial court's denial of summary disposition in favor of Progressive, the Court of Appeals first recognized the causation standard that is applicable to the payment of no-fault benefits. In this regard, the court recognized that a no-fault insurer is eligible for benefits "arising out of the ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle." The court further recognized that in Shinabarger v Citizens Ins Co, 90 Mich App 307 (1979), the Court of Appeals emphasized that "the relationship between the use of the vehicle and the injury need not approach proximate cause," and that "the question to be answered is whether the injury 'originated from', 'had its origin in,' grew out of,' or 'flowed from' the use of the vehicle." The court further noted that in Scott v State Farm Mut Automobile Ins Co, 278 Mich App 578 (2008), the Court of Appeals applied the causation standard set forth in Shinabarger and ultimately explained that "'arising out of' requires more than an incidental, fortuitous, or but-for causal connection, but does not require direct or proximate causation."

The court ultimately determined that viewed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff, sufficient evidence established that the question of fact concerning whether the 2008 motorcycle crash "originated from," "had its origin in," "grew out of," or "flowed from" the 2007 car accident. In this regard, the court specifically stated:

"Viewed in the light most favorable to Ian, sufficient evidence establishes a question of fact concerning whether the 2008 motorcycle crash "originated from," "had its origin in," "grew out of," or "flowed from" the 2007 car accident. Drs. Smith and Al-Hakim unequivocally connected Ian's seizure disorder to the trauma Ian experienced when his head collided with the air bag. This evidence could support a jury's reasonable conclusion that Ian's 2008 bodily injuries arose from Christopher's operation of the vehicle involved in the 2007 crash. Alternatively stated, the connection between Ian's injuries and the 2007 accident "is not so remote or attenuated as to preclude a finding that it arose out of the use of a motor vehicle." Kochoian v Allstate Ins Co, 168 Mich App 1, 9; 423 NW2d 913 (1988). And the evidence reasonably supports that "the causal connection between the injury and the use of the motor vehicle was more than incidental, fortuitous, or 'but for.'" Putkamer v Transamerica Ins Corp of America, 454 Mich 626, 634; 563 NW2d 683 (1997)."

The court further rejected Progressive's argument that the motorcycle accident constituted a separate and superseding cause of the plaintiff's spinal cord injury. The court noted that Shinabarger and Scott make it clear that the existence of an independent cause for a claimant's injuries does not bar recovery under the causation standard applicable to the payment of no-fault benefits. In this regard, the court specifically stated:

"In Shinabarger, this Court specifically noted that the existence of an independent cause for a claimant's injuries does not bar recovery under the no-fault act: "Where use of the vehicle is one of the causes of the injury, a sufficient causal connection is established even though there exists an independent cause. . . ." Shinabarger, 90 Mich App at 313 (internal citations omitted). In Scott, 278 Mich App at 586, this Court summarized, "there is no authority that, for purposes of personal protection insurance, a plaintiff must exclude other possible causes" of his injury. Had Ian injured his spinal cord in 2008 by falling from a ladder during a seizure, Progressive would potentially bear liability. That Ian instead suffered a seizure while riding a motorcycle does not, standing alone, eliminate any connection between his 2007 head injury and the 2008 events."

The Court went on to further explain that traditional tort causation concepts, including "but for" and proximate causation, do not govern whether an injury "arises out of" the operation of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. In this regard, the court specifically stated:

Shinabarger and Putkamer instruct that traditional tort causation concepts, including "but for" and proximate causation, do not govern whether an injury "arises out of" the operation of a motor vehicle as a motor vehicle. Rather, "[a]ll that is required to come within the meaning of the words 'arising out of the . . . use of the automobile' is a causal connection with the accident." Ins Co of North America v Royal Indemnity Co, 429 F2d 1014, 1018 (CA 6, 1970). While the phrase should not be extended to include entirely remote or utterly unforeseeable events, where a causal nexus links the operation of a vehicle and an injury, MCL 500.3105(1) compels coverage. Here, Ian has established a triable issue of fact whether his spinal injuries arose from Christopher's operation of the vehicle involved in the 2007 accident."

Judge K. F. Kelly dissented on the grounds that under MCL 500.3113(b), the plaintiff should be disqualified from no-fault benefits for the injuries he sustained in the 2008 motorcycle accident, because he owned the motorcycle he was operating and the motorcycle was not insured under a liability insurance policy under MCL 500.3103.

Judge Kelly reasoned that MCL 500.3113(b) was an absolute prohibition against the plaintiff recovering no-fault benefits. The majority argued against this reasoning on the basis that it ignored the scope of the causation standard applicable to the plaintiff's claims for no-fault benefits arising out of the 2007 motor vehicle accident.


Lansing car accident lawyer Stephen Sinas is the lead editor of the appellate case summaries published on this site regarding the Michigan auto insurance law. To learn more about how Stephen Sinas and how the Sinas Dramis Law Firm can help you if you have been injured in a Michigan auto accident, visit SinasDramis.com.

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