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McPherson v McPherson and Auto Club Group and Progressive; (MSC-PUB, 4/11/2013; RB #3336)

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The Michigan Supreme Court; Docket No. 144666; Published
5-1 Memorandum Opinion (with Cavanagh Dissenting, and Viviano not Participating)
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Forthcoming; Link to Opinion alt   


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

TOPICAL INDEXING:      
Not Applicable  


CASE SUMMARY:  
In this Memorandum Opinion regarding plaintiff's claim for PIP benefits, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff was not entitled to receive PIP benefits for spinal-cord injuries that he sustained in a motorcycle crash that occurred after he suffered a seizure while operating his motorcycle, because even though the seizure itself was attributable to a neurological disorder that resulted from a prior auto accident, the spinal-cord injuries sustained in the subsequent motorcycle crash were "too attenuated” to permit a finding of causation under MCL 500.3105(1).  

The Plaintiff in this case suffered a seizure while operating his motorcycle in 2008.   The seizure caused him to lose control of the motorcycle and crash into a parked car.  During the crash, the he sustained severe spinal-cord injuries that left him quadriplegic.  The underlying seizure resulted from a neurological disorder that was attributable to a prior auto accident that the plaintiff was involved in previously in 2007.  There was "no dispute  . . . that plaintiff [was] entitled to personal protection insurance (PIP) benefits from Progressive for all injuries ‘arising out of’ [the 2007] accident, including the neurological disorder."  The plaintiff sought to recover PIP benefits from Progressive for his 2008 spinal-cord injuries, arguing that because the underlying seizure that caused the motorcycle crash undisputedly resulted from a neurological disorder attributable to the 2007 accident, the spinal cord injuries therefore "arose out of" the 2007 accident for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1).   Given the undisputed facts, he Court noted that only issue here concerned “whether the spinal cord injury plaintiff suffered in the 2008 crash “ar[ose] out of” the 2007 accident for purposes of MCL 500.3105(1)."

Accordingly, the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s spinal-cord injuries did not arise out of the 2007 auto accident.  The Court reasoning that:

"In this case, 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).  Plaintiff did not injure his spinal cord while using the vehicle in 2007.  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.’”

In reaching this conclusion, the Court distinguished the circumstances of this case from those that existed in the case of Scott v State Farm Mutual Auto Ins, 278 Mich App 751 (2008), wherein the Court of Appeals held that summary disposition was improper because there existed a genuine issue of material fact whether the plaintiff's hyperlipidemia resulted from injuries she sustained in the auto accident or whether it was attributable to other factors.  Specifically, the Supreme Court noted that unlike the plaintiff in Scott, the plaintiff in this case had not alleged a direct causal connection between the 2007 auto accident and the spinal-cord injuries sustained in the 2008 motorcycle crash. Rather, the plaintiff admitted that “absent the intervening motorcycle accident, his spinal cord injury would not have occurred as a direct result of the neurological disorder.” The Court then reiterated that:

"The facts alleged by plaintiff are insufficient to support a finding that the first injury caused the second injury in any direct way. Rather, the facts alleged by plaintiff only support a finding that the first injury directly caused the second accident, which in turn caused the second injury. Thus, the second injury alleged by plaintiff is too attenuated from the first accident to permit a finding that the second injury was directly caused by the first accident.”

Notably, the Court affirmed the validity of the Scott test for causation, albeit reluctantly, but clarified that the test is not limitless, stating:

 “Though we are troubled by Scott’s use of a causal-connection standard this Court has never recognized—that “[a]lmost any causal connection will do.”

Based on the foregoing, the Court held that the Court of Appeals committed reversible error "by failing to grant summary disposition in favor of Progressive."

Justice Cavanagh dissented from the majority and would hold that the plaintiff’s 2008 spinal cord injuries did “arise out of” the 2007 motor vehicle accident.  In this regard, Justice Cavanagh concluded that:

Once the nature of a seizure disorder is properly understood, I believe the majority’s analysis is incorrect. Plaintiff’s fall during his 2008 seizure was not an intervening cause; rather, it was an inextricable aspect of his seizure disorder, and any injuries sustained during the loss of consciousness and fall arose out of the motor vehicle accident that caused the seizure disorder. Simply put, loss of consciousness and falling down is part of a seizure. While I agree that the severity of the person’s injuries may be exacerbated depending on what the person is doing at the time of a seizure, that does not change the fact that a seizure disorder caused the person to unexpectedly fall and suffer an injury. Stated differently, plaintiff’s seizure disorder cannot be separated from his 2008 fall and attendant injuries in any meaningful way. Because plaintiff’s fall was an inextricable aspect of his seizure, I believe that plaintiff can satisfy MCL 500.3105(1).” 


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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