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State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v Coker; (CCC-UNP, 4/24/1992; RB #1545)


Washtenaw County Circuit Court; Docket No. 91-42316-AZ;  
Honorable Donald E. Shelton; Unpublished  
Official Michigan Reporter Citation:  Not Applicable; Link to Opinion alt  

General / Miscellaneous [§3135]  
Liability for Economic Loss Caused by Uninsured Tortfeasors [§3135(3)(b)]

Not Applicable   

In this written Opinion, Judge Shelton held that the tort abrogation provisions of §3135 of the Michigan No-Fault Act did not abolish an at-fault driver's tort liability for property damages where the driver fails to maintain the insurance required by the no-fault law. The district court judge held that the at-fault driver's tort liability was abolished, except to the extent of the $400 mini tort liability created by §3135(2)(d). Plaintiff argued that the literal interpretation of subsection (2) of §3135 is that tort liability is abolished only for those people who carry no-fault insurance and that an uninsured driver remains liable for all of the damages which he or she causes with their uninsured motor vehicle.  

In reversing the district court, Judge Shelton agreed with plaintiff and held, "the court is convinced that mere is no controlling case law which is directly on point Dicta from three Supreme Court cases, however, seems to support plaintiff’s basic position. In Auto Club Insurance Association v Hill, 431 Mich 449 (1988) (Item No. 1171), the court held that without regard to the precondition of insurance contained in subsection (2), subsection (1) abolished everyone's tort liability for non-economic losses which did not meet the injury threshold in that section. The Hill court found that the legislative scheme in the statute is that a victim of an uninsured motorist may recover all of his or her property damages from the uninsured driver, but may only recover his or her personal injury damages which exceed the threshold injuries. It did so by adopting language from an earlier Supreme Court decision in Bradley v Mid Century Insurance Company, 409 Mich 1 (1980 [Item No. 312] at page 62 that 'if a motorist is uninsured he may be sued for all economic loss as well as above threshold non-economic loss.' The Hill court also discussed Citizens Insurance Company v Tattle, 411 Mich 536 (1981) in which an uninsured person was found liable for economic losses caused when his escaping cow hit a tractor and trailer. None of these three holdings are directly on point. Hill dealt with a claim for non-economic loses. Bradley dealt with the question of policy offsets, and, as will be discussed later, pre-dated the addition of subsections (2Xd) and (3) to the statute. Tuttle held that the damages did not arise out of the tortfeasor's ownership, maintenance or use of a motor vehicle, but rather out of his negligent keeping of the cattle and was, therefore, not controlled by the statute. Thus, although the language of each of these three cases seems to support plaintiff’s position; they are not controlling."  

Judge Shelton then discussed the legislative amendment adding the "mini tort" provisions as subsection (2)(d) of §3135. The district court judge read that amendment in conjunction with the Hill case and held that the legislature intended, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, that uninsured drivers would have the benefit of the no-fault abolition of tort liability, even though they did not carry the required insurance to the extent provided in the statute. Judge Shelton noted, "under this interpretation, an uninsured driver would remain liable only for above threshold non-economic injuries and for property damage limited to a maximum of $400." Judge Shelton rejected this interpretation and noted that, "the law as to economic losses is contained in § (2). Subsection (2)(d) must be read in conjunction with the premise contained in §(2). Section (2) abolishes tort liability for insured motorists and the subsections which follow are only exceptions to that abolition of liability.... Since the defendant here did not maintain such insurance, she cannot avail herself of the protection of §(2) and the provisions of subsection (2)(d) never come into play." Accordingly, Judge Shelton reversed the trial court and remanded the case for entry of judgment in favor of plaintiff in the full amount of plaintiff’s property damage.  

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